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4 Secrets To Success That Helped Rapelang Rabana Grow Her Business

Rapelang Rabana is all about systems and processes, but that doesn’t mean breaking out the red tape and putting barriers in front of employees.

GG van Rooyen

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  • Player: Rapelang Rabana
  • Company: Rekindle Learning
  • Claim to fame: Rapelang Rabana is an entrepreneur and investor who was voted the Entrepreneur for the World by the World Entrepreneurship Forum in 2014. She has also established herself as a popular and insightful speaker through the Unique Speaker Bureau (USB).
  • In March 2017 she was named to the 100 Young Global Leaders list by the World Economic Forum.
  • Visit: www.rapelang.com

The move into a growth phase in your business requires a shift in focus. Here are four key areas that you should be looking at if you’re serious about expansion.

1Systems and processes

I think I’m naturally a systems-oriented person, so I probably implemented systems and processes quicker than a lot of other entrepreneurs typically do.

It sounds daunting and complicated, but it needn’t be. In fact, it shouldn’t be.

Related: Women Who Lead: Bonnie Cooper And Esna Colyn On Wearing The Mantle Of Leadership

The aim should be to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and that activities aren’t needlessly duplicated. It’s should be about breaking down barriers and making everything transparent; not tying employees up in red tape.

The last thing you should want is employees who are not empowered to get the job done. The good news nowadays is that you don’t need to implement a complex and expensive ERP system. Applications like Slack and Trello allow even start-ups to get systems in place.

The quicker you embrace these, the better. People are increasingly working from different locations, so online collaboration tools are becoming a must-have.

2Finances and legal

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When I started out, I did all the bookkeeping for my business. It was about three years before I hired someone else to do it, which was a huge mistake.

Dealing with the day-to-day finances of a business takes up way too much of your time. It distracts and disrupts you — you’re constantly task-switching, which means you aren’t being effective in your role as founder.

This doesn’t mean that you should hire a CFO right away, or that you should ignore the financial situation of the business, but pay someone to handle the bulk of the finances. The reality is that they will probably be better at handling the finances than you are, and can help you get a better picture of what you can and can’t afford.

Decisions like how to structure your sales commissions can have a huge impact on the bottom line. Someone with the necessary knowledge should guide you.

Similarly, I recommend getting a lawyer quickly. When a business is still young, this can seem like a waste of money, but it is totally worth it. Many entrepreneurs end up paying for this mistake down the line. Don’t draft your own contracts.

Related: Yeigo: Wilter Du Toit, Lungisa Matshoba & Rapelang Rabana

3Being busy vs being productive

You can be incredibly busy but actually struggle to move your business forward. Tactics are important, but you need people to help you with the day-to-day tactical decisions so that you can concentrate on the overarching strategy. That’s why being your own bookkeeper is such a bad idea.

It can take up all your time and never allow you to focus on the long-term strategy of the company. You need to ask yourself: How close is this activity to the revenue line? Will this result in extra income?

Bookkeeping and marketing activities are far from the revenue line, so they shouldn’t occupy too much of your time. Unless you’re very established with a strong management team, your focus as founder should be on sales and client issues.

That’s where the revenue comes from. The key to being able to do this is delegation, to have others take ownership of certain functions.   

4Growing your customers

Once you’re out of the start-up phase and looking to grow your business, your focus will be on rapidly expanding your customer base. This is a tricky phase, since the tactics that allowed you to secure your early customers won’t usually allow you to 10x your revenue.

It’s too time-intensive — you spend hours and weeks with a client. So, what’s the solution? My advice would be to focus on B2B.

It’s tempting to try and go straight for the consumer, but an economy like South Africa’s is very fragmented, which makes it hard to access.

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

My advice is this: You don’t always need to go straight to the end-user. This might be your ultimate aim, but focusing on partners and distributors who can help get your product in the hands of customers can be a huge help while you’re still growing your business. Setting up an efficient way to market through partners and resellers is a solid tactic.

Take note

Don’t let daily tasks derail you from your long-term vision for your business. Put people, systems and processes in place that allow you to take a step back from the daily chaos and work on the future of your company.

GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

Company Posts

Designing Her Destiny

Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.

QuickBooks SA

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In 2011, Emmerentia van den Hoven took a leap of faith when she decided to leave her graphic design job at an agency and pursue her real passion – and it has paid off tenfold. Here’s her story.

“When I started planning my own wedding eight years ago, I fell in love with wedding design and wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Designing for brands had become a set of rules rather than being creative, and I’d always wanted to work for myself. So, in September 2011, I turned my seven-month-old side gig into a fully-fledged business and launched Oh Yay!

I have to hustle every month to get new clients because every client will use my services maximum twice – first for the wedding invitations and then for the stationery on the day – so I don’t normally have returning clients.

Because my main business is seasonal and usually once-off per customer, I have branched out into branding for small businesses in the beauty and lifestyle industry. I also earn a passive income through the Oh Yay! online shop where I sell wedding décor items.  Oh Yay Kids – my other online store – is my passion project. I launched it just before my second child was born, adding items to the store that I made for my two boys when I saw a need for it. I then expanded into prints for nurseries and kids’ party stationery.

I work for myself and have no employees, so the fact that QuickBooks lets me load all my services, products and prices in one place makes running my business so much easier. Being an entrepreneur is difficult because you don’t know if you’ll be successful or not. But if you believe in and love what you’re doing, it reflects in your work and the service you give.”

Less admin, more of what you love

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When Oh Yay! was launched, along with her dream of being an entrepreneur, came the nightmare of other administrative tasks. But that changed in 2018 when Emmerentia started using QuickBooks.

“When I was using spreadsheets to balance my books, I was spending 80% of my time on admin, which left very little time to tend to customers’ orders. I now spend no more than 25% of my time on admin, which is important, especially when it comes to the speed at which I send quotes. You don’t get any work if you don’t send out quotes and it’s tough to juggle the admin with your actual job of running the business.

Numbers were never really my strong point, so having a professional quote done in record time not only projects professionalism, but the format also changes the way new clients see me. In my industry, the quicker you can send a quote out, the likelier you’ll get the clients’ business. It gives legitimacy to my business. The QuickBooks system operates so seamlessly that clients communicate with me differently, like I have my own accounting department, when in fact, I’m a one-woman-show.

I used to dread doing admin, but now it’s so easy and quick. I’m not just saying this – QuickBooks changed my life.”

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.

Diana Albertyn

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business

Embrace technology every chance you get.

Nadine Todd

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A company that’s been active for more than five decades in an industry that’s hundreds of years old doesn’t sound like a recipe for innovation — and yet that’s exactly what Luci Nouwens, owner of Nouwens Carpets, is focused on.

The modern carpet has a history that goes back thousands of years. And despite the hipster trend of reclaimed and hard wood flooring, the carpet still remains a popular choice for consumers.

In South Africa, a name that’s synonymous with quality carpeting is Nouwens. When Cornelis Nouwens arrived in the country in the 1950s, bringing the skills of a trade which he had mastered alongside his father in Tilburg, the hub of the Netherlands’ wool textile industry, he passed on the skills and the love of the craft to his family and to workers in the Harrismith region in KwaZulu Natal.

More than 50 years after her father started it in 1962, the company remains family owned, and is headed by Luci Nouwens, who has been with the business for 48 years.

“We have maintained our reputation for premium quality all this time by paying meticulous attention to crafting standards and selecting only the finest raw materials,” says Luci. “Equally important is that we have innovated at every opportunity, embracing technology without ever compromising the traditional craftsman’s spirit.”

Innovation drives growth

Businesses that innovate are able to grow and hire more employees. As a result, they grab a bigger share of the market. That’s true regardless of the size of your business: If you innovate, you can scale up.

In 1968 Nouwens launched a pure karakul wool carpet that was extremely hard wearing and took the company into the commercial carpet market. Luci recalls the manufacturing of the carpet as “a major feat of unique textile engineering.” Another innovation in 2005 was the introduction of a totally new style of flat weave wool carpet, a very clean, minimalist and natural look requiring much less wool without compromising on wearability.

“These innovations are just two of many that have allowed the business to boost its market share over the years,” says Luci. “But beyond that, innovation has enabled Nouwens Carpets to form the backbone of economic activity and upliftment in the local community around Harrismith. This has allowed us to make substantial investment in providing education and skills development for the local population, to ensure that the craft is preserved for generations to come.”

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

Innovation enables sustainability

Innovation in technologies and how they are applied is key to enabling a manufacturer like Nouwens to create new business value, while also protecting the planet.

“We have used technology to enable sustainable manufacturing, for the benefit of the business, the community, and our customers.”

Nouwens selects equipment, materials and manufacturing methods based on their degree of sustainability and protection of the environment. The company is also a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa and submits its products for VOC testing to ensure that harmful emissions are significantly reduced.

“Ultimately, we are driven by a passion for textiles and the ability to constantly find better ways to produce beautiful products. After the downturn in the economy, we started to produce more cost-effective commercial nylon yarns, and in 2017, we became the new kid on the block for synthetic grass. The bottom line is that a true entrepreneur does what has to be done when the time comes.” — Monique Verduyn

The role of disruption in creating value

A disruptive business is a business that challenges and potentially changes the status quo. From a mindset point of view, a culture that questions ‘why’ can help foster organisational and market disruption. But disruption for the sake of disruption is self-defeating, it needs to be on the back of making things better and based on commercial principles, i.e. people or market players actually wanting to be disrupted.

The starting point is this: Does someone, or a market, value what you’re producing? If the answer is yes, you have a commercially viable disruption. Disruption that is valued by its target market has the best chance of resulting in success.

Get that right and you’ll have a customer base, you’ll gain traction and you’ll attract investors, provided you’re also making a meaningful and sustainable difference to your target market or community. — Ian Lessem, CEO, HAVAIC Investment and Advisory Firm

Collaboration

Team up with customers and competitors.

There’s more power in collaboration than competition. We’re stronger together than when we’re apart. When it comes to working with competitors, consider this: They may have something that you don’t, or vice versa, and 50% of something is always more than 100% of nothing. You’re then positioned to add value before you add an invoice, so your clients benefit from your relationships, and the market wins. From there, you become your client’s go-to-person, because you’re putting them first.

Customers are also a great source of knowledge: They might just have the answers you’re looking for, but are you asking them the right questions? They often know more about an entrepreneur’s business than they know themselves, because they’re on the receiving end of your offering. One way to collaborate with customers is to ask them more questions about yourselves, themselves and their clients. Harness their perspective and develop yourself to give them what they want, not what you think they want. — Wes Boshoff, founder, Imagine Thinking

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

PR

Know what your audiences are interested in

As a brand, there are many ways to ensure your audience is paying attention to you, but you can’t expect them to find you unless you’re sharing content that captures their interest. If you send out press releases, don’t be too rigid or plain. Audiences want to be engaged, and not to have to deal with long, cumbersome information. An infographic, along with a video or pictures will make your release easier to ingest and more memorable. People don’t want boring figures, they want relatable stories.

One way to be relatable is by tapping into influencer marketing. This doesn’t mean you need celebrities with the highest followings to endorse you. Micro-influencers are proving to have just as much clout as those with larger followings. Evidence shows that micro-influencers have a more established and deeper connection with their audience, which translates to loyalty and a readiness to follow their advice. The trick is to find the micro-influencers who are speaking to the audience you want to reach.

Big data plays a key role in painting a picture of who is ‘out there’. With the right information, you can tailor your content to a specific audience. Big data can show you what topics and problems are trending in your industry, so that you can get the jump on them. Use big data to deliver your own insights on current topics, shaping and leading the conversation, converting your audience’s attention into action. — Madelain Roscher, founder and managing director, PR Worx and Status Reputation Management

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