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Women Entrepreneur Successes

7 Foundations Monalisa Zwambila Of Riverbed Believes You Must Have In Place To Build A High-Growth Company

Here’s how Monalisa Zwambila learnt to articulate her vision to propel her company’s growth.

Nadine Todd

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Monalisa Zwambila

Vital Stats

  • Player: Monalisa Zwambila
  • Company: Riverbed
  • Launched: 2007
  • Turnover: R80 million
  • Awards: Winner of the Regional Business Woman of the Year 2017
  • Visit: www.theriverbedagency.co.za

There comes a time in a business’s lifecycle when you realise you are through your start-up journey, and if you want to build a high-growth organisation, you need to put the right foundations in place.

For Monalisa Zwambila, founder of Riverbed, a through-the-line communications agency, that realisation happened in 2013, six years after she had launched the business.

“Four years ago I had an epiphany,” she says. “We had 15 employees and a turnover of R18 million. I realised that if we were ever going to get bigger, I needed to find a way to get my vision out of my head, and into the organisation. It needed to be more than just me working towards a goal. It needed to be the whole organisation working together towards a shared dream.”

Today Riverbed employs 40 people and has a turnover of R80 million, with 100% year-on-year growth. These are the foundations Monalisa has put in place to achieve this growth and they remain the foundations of where she plans to take the business.

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

1Articulate your vision and get the right people on board

monalisa-zwambila-riverbed

For Monalisa, growth had always been a constant. She had never wanted a two-man operation. But when you’re starting out, it’s not always possible to follow a clear vision. You can have a sense of purpose and fundamentals in place, but you’re also a start-up, and you’ll take what you can get to keep the business operational.

“I was MD of a large communications firm before I struck out on my own,” Monalisa explains.

“I had built a reputation based on excellence, hard work and tenacity, and this opened doors for me, and secured our first two clients. Building an ethical and best-of-breed business has always been important to me. I’m a firm believer that if you continually give your best work, something will come of it, and this is what I look for in my employees. But when you’re launching a business, you also need to be a realist.

“In the early days it was just me, formulating the firm’s strategy, and helping my clients develop the right PR strategy and events for their brand. But I needed people to implement, and when you’re starting out, you’ll take anyone. The shift happened for me when I realised that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed like-minded, great people to get on the journey with me. This would only work if they had a sense of purpose beyond just an ad agency, and I realised that it was up to me to give them that. Once I got it, once I realised that to attract and retain the right people, you need to be able to articulate your vision, it brought about amazing changes, both in the character and the culture of the organisation.”

But articulating your vision is easier said than done, as Monalisa, and countless business owners before her, have learnt. You need to be able to get your vision out of your head and into your employees’ hearts.

Do this: If your goal is growth, having the right people in key strategic areas is vital. To attract and retain the best people for your organisation though, you need a clear vision and culture that they can believe in and add value to.

2Find a clear growth path

To move from where they were, Monalisa recognised a step change was needed for the business. There is only so much room for growth for a PR and eventing agency, and so the next logical move was to become a through-the-line agency. In PR, billings are capped. The advertising space offers a bigger creative outlet, and combining these capabilities makes it possible to offer the same clients more.

“There are two ways to do this. You can either bring in heavy-hitters with a client base and expertise in a different channel to your own, or make an acquisition, and grow the business in that way,” she says.

This is true of any business, operating within any industry. If you want to grow through additional revenue streams and areas of expertise, you can build them slowly and organically, or bring in experts and an existing client base. Monalisa decided to make a strategic acquisition.

“We weren’t a big name in the world of agencies, and didn’t hold the right appeal for a creative with their own clout in the market. We weren’t attractive enough at that time for the level of talent that I was looking for. The only other option was an acquisition. The timing was perfect. The owner of Chillibush Communications wanted to sell the business and exit completely, which suited me well. I didn’t want a partnership; I was looking for new, above-the-line skills and an existing client base. Chilibush had a good reputation in the industry, and a solid client base.”

With the due diligence and an agreement in place, Chillibush and Riverbed merged. Monalisa had achieved her objective of becoming a through-the-line agency, but not without some serious growing pains.

“Chillibush had 30 people, and we had 15. It was a bit like the fish swallowing the whale. I had also debated what we would be called, and I’d settled on keeping Riverbed, instead of Chillibush/Riverbed. I had a very clear vision and purpose, and I didn’t want to dilute that, or lose focus. But it did mean that I was making the conscious choice not to keep the name of an agency that had a good industry reputation, and a larger employee base than my own. Ultimately though, I decided that didn’t matter. There would be teething pains — and there were — but it would be worth it. I just had to stick to my vision.

“It was a challenging time. I was clear about the upside, but it was still challenging. Today we are stronger. We’re clear about our purpose, culture and drive, and what we’re trying to deliver on, but we did lose people during the transition. I learnt a valuable lesson. Once your vision and culture is clear, people are able to determine if it suits them or not. If it does, you have full buy-in. If it doesn’t, it’s better for everyone to move on. It took me time to understand this, and to have the courageous conversations when I needed to. You can’t be everything to everyone. Rather know exactly who you are, and create an incredible space for people who share your vision.”

Do this: Are your decisions short-term money decisions, or long-term growth decisions? From a practical business perspective, Monalisa could have kept the Chillibush name and leveraged it to make money. But even though she believed the acquisition of Chillibush was the best growth move open to her, Monalisa had her own vision — one she worked 16-hour days to achieve. To stay true to this vision, she needed to stay true to the brand she was building. It was a long-term decision, but it’s paid off.

Related: 5 Key Tactics That Helped Gill Bowen And Tim Hartzenberg Revitalise The Shooshoos Brand

3Keep your clients happy

riverbed-south-africa

When you’re on a growth path, there’s a fine line between landing big deals and keeping your existing clients happy. This is even more true when it comes to a merger. Riverbed’s team identified the key clients from both businesses, and ensured they were kept happy.

“We needed to win Chillibush’s clients over,” says Monalisa. “We promised it would be a smooth transition — and kept that promise — plus we unpacked the value of what they could now tap into with our additional services, which was to their benefit. These accounts were key — we had higher overheads and a much larger staff complement to take care of. We also made sure we didn’t alienate existing clients.”

Do this: When you’re on a growth path, communicate with your clients often and openly. Be transparent about your plans, and any challenges you’re facing. Unpack the benefits to them, and ask for support when you need it, while giving assurances that any upheavals are short-lived. You never want to alienate existing clients that have supported you up until that point.

4Build your brand

With the right capabilities in place, Riverbed has now focused on brand building. “We’ve been under the radar,” says Monalisa.

“If we want to start securing really big deals, we need to position ourselves in the minds of the right companies. In this industry most pitches are closed tenders, and the process is managed by two or three search companies. We need to be on their radar.”

To achieve this, Riverbed has embarked on its own PR strategy, but this would have been impossible without the ten-year track record that Monalisa and her team have patiently built up.

“The market needs to know who we are. We’re competing against the huge multinationals. We don’t stand a chance unless we get our story out there. We need to let them know that we can do the job just as well, with better local insights, and probably at a better price — but it’s not up to them to find us. It’s up to us to make sure they see us, and can’t ignore us. That takes time — you need to build up a track record. But once you have, it’s time to make use of it, and show your potential clients what you’re made of.”

Do this: Build the right foundations. Most overnight successes are ten years in the making. You need to build credibility and a good reputation. You need the right systems and processes in place to ensure delivery. And you need the confidence to bid for large tenders — and win them.

5Have a purpose — and share it with the world

riverbed-south-african-business-purpose

“We’ve found that to be considered by clients, you need to share your story. People need to notice you, and want to share your story too because it resonates with them,” says Monalisa.

“For us, we’ve launched an initiative called the Greater Good initiative based on my business philosophies. I’ve always held these philosophies, but it took time and experience before I was able to fully articulate them. People and clients have approached me wanting to work with us because we always strive to do Great things for Good. They don’t always remember all the details of what I said, they just know it resonated with them, and that’s the start of the conversation. Ultimately, people do business with people, and so what you care about, and how you do business, matters.”

Monalisa’s path to articulating her vision began with her epiphany four years ago. She realised that all businesses exist within their environments, and impact the world around them. This can either be a force for good or not. “I started thinking about how we can do great things for good,” she explains. “I wanted to align all our campaigns and the clients we choose to work with to this ideal: Where is the good?

“We’ve broken this down into three key areas: Greater good for our clients, which is doing great work and asking what greater good idea can come out of that campaign, and is there a benefit to people?

“Then we look for the greater good for employees. Is there excellence for its own sake? And how do we build, monitor and recognise greatness?

“Finally, is there greater good in the communities we serve? We quantify the pro bono work we do, and we’ve already put two graduates through university. We’ve found that this philosophy gives us purpose, and keeps us all on the same page. We have a benchmark that we can measure our decisions against, and this keeps us on point and all working towards the same goals, which is essential in a growing organisation.”

Do this: Develop a clear vision and purpose, and align this with your core strategy. This gives you a clear point to benchmark all decisions against. What’s your north star and does the current decision support it? This will help you maintain focus and give you and your team fulfilment.

Lessons Learnt

  • It’s all about people. When you go through the process of a structured deal, you tend to do a due diligence on the balance sheets and income statements, but you don’t look at the people, and yet that’s what you’re buying. That’s where the skills lie. This was Monalisa’s biggest mistake – she didn’t spend enough time looking at the people.
  • Leadership is a journey. Recognise that your leadership skills are always a work in progress — and work on them. As the head of your organisation, how you lead your team is essential to your growth prospects.
  • When you make a decision, own it. Monalisa interrogates everything. However, this means that once she makes a decision, she takes complete ownership of it, and never casts blame if it doesn’t work out as planned.
  • Learn to be decisive. When you’re growing a business, you have your head down, working, working, working. And then you look up and realise how many people are now following you. This is often a rough transition for business owners, because you have to own your position — including the tough decisions and conversations that come with it. In this position, decisiveness is crucial. You can’t take time making key decisions that affect your team, business and clients. You need to be decisive.

Key Insights

business-insights

No man (or woman) is an island                

The greatest entrepreneurs recognise the importance of a team. They know that their role as leader is to articulate their vision in such a way that they attract and retain the right employees, who are ultimately able to execute that vision.

Own your decisions            

Don’t cast blame when things don’t work out as planned. Take the time to evaluate all possible outcomes, weigh your options, and then own your decisions.

As a leader, you need to be decisive, and the best way to make that a habit is to have confidence in your decisions, good and bad.

Remember, ‘no decision’ is worse than the wrong decision.

When you buy a business, you’re buying its skills and people           

Due diligence processes look at a business’s books and finances. They evaluate cash flow, current and potential clients, and growth possibilities. What is often overlooked is the core of the business and what makes it tick: Its people. Spend time getting to know the people — they could be your greatest asset, or your greatest burden.

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

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Pet Wellness Worx Found Business Success In Rehabilitating Pets

Lorren Barham, the founder of Pet Wellness Worx, spoke to Entrepreneur about the challenges of launching a business in a relatively unknown industry.

Nadine Todd

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lorren-barham

Vital stats

  • Player: Lorren Barham
  • Company: Pet Wellness Worx
  • Est: 2014
  • About: Lorren Barham is the owner and operator of the hydro underwater treadmill and therapist-in-the-pool facility of Pet Wellness Worx. The business specialises in the health, wellbeing and rehabilitative care of pets.
  • Visit: petwellnessworx.co.za

Certain business ideas are obvious, others aren’t. In a world where many founders are looking to create ‘the Uber of this’ or ‘the Uber of that’, a company that offers rehabilitative care for pets might seem like a niche lifestyle business.

But Lorren Barham’s Pet Wellness Worx has seen fantastic growth over the last three years precisely because it is so niche. Lorren identified a relatively unexploited niche and owned it.

In the modern business world where all the obvious opportunities have already been jumped at, success lies in finding that small but promising industry that is ripe for growth. Not that launching a start-up in this sort of space is easy, mind you. Chances are, you’ll need to educate consumers and grow your company slowly, but if you get the basics right, you can establish a sustainable operation with excellent long-term prospects.

1. How did you identify this unique business opportunity?

I did not have a background in the field, but I’ve always had an intense passion for animals, and because of my own pets, I knew about auto immune disorders like degenerative myelopathy, neurological spinal prolapse and hip dysplasia.

Related: Feel Like Quitting? These 9 Women Prove Grit Can Lead You To Massive Success

Over the years, some of my own animals had to deal with these issues, so I understood that there was a need for a facility that could assist with rehabilitation. So, going into the industry wasn’t a purely tactical business decision — I had a real passion for the work. I think that’s important. You can’t pursue a business idea simply because you think there’s an opportunity in it. You need to be passionate about it. When times are tough, it’s your passion that’ll keep you going.

2. What is your background?

Pet Wellness Worx

I have a corporate background. I started out as a personal assistant, and over the years, I furthered my education, completing courses in fields like bookkeeping and business administration. When I opened my own business, I found that the knowledge and experience I gained in the corporate environment was immensely useful. Procuring expensive equipment, for instance, was less intimidating because I knew how to deal with suppliers and negotiate a fair deal.

You don’t need an MBA, necessarily, but you need some basic business knowledge. You could be a great specialist in your specific field, but running your own business is something very different. As an entrepreneur, you wear a lot of hats, and you have to manage every aspect of the company — you have to manage employees, balance the books and do the marketing — so you need to educate yourself on the basics of running a business.

3. How did you prepare for the launch of the business?

I did a lot of research. I spent months figuring out exactly what sort of services I should provide, and how I should structure the business. Importantly, I had a goal and a mission. It helps to know what your ultimate goal is. Figure out what you want to achieve, and then do plenty of research. Take your time. Solid research will prevent you from making mistakes that can be costly down the line.

Related: Women Leaders In Business: 5 Lessons Learnt

4. How did you market the business in the early days?

We focused on qualified veterinarians. Not only could they refer clients to the business, but it was also clear that in order for the company to succeed, buy-in from them was necessary. So, I spent a lot of time at veterinarians’ offices. I had to show them that I was running a legitimate business that could do real good.

Whenever you operate in a niche area, you need to realise that some education will be necessary. You need to explain the value that you bring to potential customers, and to other important decision-makers in the field.

As the company built a solid track record, and I could show vets the improvement brought on by our rehab work, we started getting more and more clients. I truly ascribe a lot of our recent success to the fact that the vets embraced us.

5. What other marketing strategies have worked for you?

It’s very important to know exactly who you’re targeting. We’re very targeted in our approach. We go to animal shows and events, and we run adds on websites like showdogs.co.za, since these are places that we know we’ll find our target audience. Facebook is another great place to showcase the work that we do. Another strategy that has worked for me has been to write articles for publication.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to educate potential customers, and a great way to do this is through editorial. I’ve written articles for magazines and websites, and media companies have generally been willing to run them. If you write an informative article that’s suitable for publication, you can get your name out in that way.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Daniella Shapiro Of Oolala Collection Club’s Smart Strategies For Marketing Your Online Business

Entrepreneur, speaker and marketing expert Daniella Shapiro recently launched a proudly South African skincare, beauty and lifestyle eCommerce platform called the Oolala Collection Club. Here’s her advice for successfully marketing your start-up.

GG van Rooyen

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daniella-shapiro

Vital stats

  • Player: Daniella Shapiro
  • Company: Oolala Collection Club
  • Founded: 2016
  • Visit: www.oolalacollection.com
  • About: The Oolala Collection Club ships proudly South African high-quality skincare, beauty products and essential lifestyle brands direct to your doorstep.

The digital space offers a lot of opportunities when it comes to starting a business, but making your start-up stand out isn’t easy. There is a lot of competition and a lot of noise online, so success requires smart and very strategic marketing. Here’s advice from entrepreneur and marketing expert Daniella Shapiro on marketing your business effectively. Daniella’s advice is gleaned from creating her online beauty and lifestyle start-up, the Oolala Collection Club.

Authenticity is everything. Hyper-connected, information-savvy and socially-conscious consumers are extremely cautious and apprehensive of being sold to. Times have changed. Perfection and image are no longer everything. Now the term ‘image’ has a big question mark: Photo-shopped and filtered. Brand messages are carefully constructed, and consumers aren’t sold. They are seeking. Millennials are ruthless and obsessive in their pursuit for authenticity. They do not want to feel ‘manipulated’.

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

Brands need to get real. Transparency 3.0 is about making almost all touch points of the purchase and experience transparent: Pricing, reviews, popularity, and even personal relevance. In short, consumers want the real story. Smart brands are giving it to them.

Mistakes are inevitable, but the important thing is how you deal with them

Being human means making mistakes. If you do mess up or end up with a social media crisis, the first step you should take is to own it. Admit to faults and take immediate action to resolve the situation. This transparency lets your fans and customers know what happened and what you’re doing to fix it.

As a result, customers’ trust in your company should remain intact. You work so hard to acquire this trust, so you need to do whatever you can to keep it.  Companies should view mistakes as powerful opportunities to increase advocacy.

Ask yourself: What does my brand stand for?

Consumers appreciate brands that stand for more than the bottom line. A great way to build your brand is to make it stand for something by creating a social story that links to a meaningful social cause on a personal level. For example, The Oolala Collection Club is all about affordable luxury and cruelty-free beauty. These causes help position the brand strategically by communicating a clear message that the consumer can resonate with. This will automatically encourage and drives positive change.

Craft a compelling user experience for eCommerce

oolala-collection-club

eCommerce in South Africa is growing in leaps and bounds. South Africans are spending more time online searching for more affordable prices and seeking product recommendations on social media.

Convenience and shopping from the comfort of your own home has become more important as our lives become busier.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

Subscription services allow the customer to do as little as possible, saving time and money, especially with companies offering same day or next day shipping. The whole eCommerce user experience must be seamless, simple and as efficient as possible, from the moment you log on to the site to the moment you check out.

Chatbots and real-time messaging are one of the most interactive ways your audience can learn about products, giving immediate answers to consumers. A Chatbot should be able to provide a personalised shopping experience. It can help users search for the appropriate product, provide comparisons and hand-hold a user through their buyer journey as well as offer sales support. Shopping cart abandonment is also reduced by answering questions immediately.

Know your audience

Considering the current state of the economy, having a well-defined target market is crucial.  No one can afford to target everyone. A small business can effectively compete with a large one by targeting a niche market. This allows you to focus your marketing budget and brand message on a specific market that is more likely to purchase from you and resonate with your brand message and products. Building your brand and social media following takes time and needs to grow organically.  Engagement is key. Build your followers by having a unique voice and consistent brand message that is interactive, relatable and focused.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

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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donna-silver-and-elvira-riccardi

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

afrizan

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.

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