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Xoliswa Daku of Daku Group’s Top Lessons For Growth To Inspire Yours

Xoliswa Daku believes in creating wealth through property developments. This principle has been her guiding star, helping her take an R18 million business to R100 million in under four years, while building a sustainable base of R800 million in assets under management. Her growth strategy has evolved thanks to intense and continuous personal development. These are her lessons in growth.

Nadine Todd

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Xoliswa Daku of Daku Group

Vital stats

  • Player: Xoliswa Daku
  • Company: Daku Group
  • Launched: 2003
  • Turnover: R100 million
  • What they do: Investment, infrastructure and property development
  • Visit: dakugroup.co.za

Xoliswa Daku completed her law degree knowing she would one day be an entrepreneur. At the time she thought she would eventually have her own law practice, instead of heading up a R100-million property development business, with R800 million in assets under management. These are her lessons for growth.

1. Do what you love

If there is such a thing as the first rule of successful business ownership, it’s this: Do what you love. True passion will not only see you through challenging times, but keep you focused on your ultimate goals as well.

Too many businesses water down their value propositions or get distracted chasing revenue, to the ultimate detriment of the company’s long-term growth strategies.

Xoliswa learnt this lesson the hard way, but has significantly grown her asset base and margins since realising her company was losing its way.

“I began my corporate career at a legal firm, and within a year was head-hunted and offered a position at Wesgro, the official tourism, trade & investment promotion agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape,” says Xoliswa.

Related: (Slideshow) Oprah Winfrey: The World’s Most Influential Woman

“Wesgro was full of economists, but they needed a legal person to assist with policy. The move introduced me to the worlds of business development and marketing, and it was then that I fell in love with the whole process of finding greenfield spaces and packaging an entire development deal, from the investors to other business partners.

“When I left the agency a few years later to join an entrepreneurial business that was in the incentives field, it wasn’t long before I gravitated back to this space. My love for it was the deciding factor, and it’s what has driven me, even when things got tough.”

As with many growing businesses, Xoliswa was so busy chasing growth that she lost her way. “When you start out, you’ll do anything to keep cash flowing into the business. I was consulting as well, and would tackle any needs a client had, from legal issues to BEE and marketing queries. The problem was that it diluted our brand. We had grown to a business with an R18 million turnover, and people were constantly asking me what it was that we actually did. I realised my entire business model was reactive, rather than proactive, and it was entirely my fault. I had no chance of growing a large business if we didn’t focus on our core areas.”

Xoliswa made the decision to offload some of the company’s products and focus. This is where passion played its role, because it helped her determine exactly where she wanted to focus Daku Group’s energies.

The lesson: High-growth organisations are proactive, not reactive. No business can be the master of everything. Choose your niche, focus on which opportunities give you the best margins and above all, ensure you’re following your passion. The more specialist a business, the more successful it tends to be.

2. Capitalise on your base

The most successful businesses (and business owners) are exceptionally good at developing a base and then growing it.

For example, Xoliswa launched the Daku Group when she was approached to join the development team for The One and Only Hotel as the project’s BEE partner and shareholder. The reason the team approached her was because of the reputation she had built at Wesgro. Because she came in while the deal was being structured, she was an active partner throughout the deal and development of the hotel.

“If you’re good at what you do, one partnership leads to another,” explains Xoliswa. “The more a market gets to know you and your reputation, the higher your chances of securing a deal. But you also can’t just sit back and expect work and contracts to flow your way. You have to take that solid reputation and make sure you’re getting noticed by the right people. And that takes planning.

“I started out helping other businesses to grow, and then put those lessons to good use in my own company. I also learnt as much as possible about my sector: The various players, the challenges my potential partners faced, and which opportunities worked and which didn’t.

“There’s so much out there, but you need to understand the landscape and what you have to offer before you can approach potential partners and pitch for deals. No one will come find you and offer an amazing opportunity — you have to go out and find it, and prove that you’re the best fit for the deal. To do that, you need a strong base, and that’s built on knowledge, experience, and successful projects that cement your reputation in the market.”

The lesson: If you’re planning for long-term success, approach every pitch, deal and even research strategically. You need to become the expert in your field; your future partners should benefit from working with you, and you need to be able to prove this.

3. Under-promise and over-deliver

Understand your company’s capabilities, and work within them to ensure you over-deliver, rather than over-promise and then let your clients down.

“We were very strategic about the sites we pitched for within the Prasa tender,” explains Xoliswa. The Prasa deal is everything Xoliswa loves: A greenfield infrastructure development project that called for local developers to pitch their ideas around what could be done with the land around Prasa’s interchanges.

“Prasa published an expression of interest. I always pay attention to what’s happening in the space, looking for development opportunities. Once you find out about a project, you then need to market yourself, and think strategically about what the client needs for the entire project to be a success.

“These pitches are at your own expense, so you want to ensure you’re aligning yourself with their needs — otherwise it’s an expensive act in futility that just wastes everyone’s time. When I was at Wesgro, I was mentored by an economist who was nearing retirement. He was extremely knowledgeable and insightful about what makes certain projects a success, and others a failure. For example, he thought Century City in Cape Town wouldn’t work, because the project didn’t include a transport interchange, or residential and office space. He was right. The original developers sold the project and it’s being reworked.

“This gave me great insight into what Prasa needed to successfully launch a national transport interchange. Whilst Prasa presented various opportunities to developers on an open tender system, I opted for three sites and those were awarded to me. I assessed and recognised that I couldn’t do more than that. I believe it’s important to avoid taking on more than you can chew, even at tender stage. It was important to me that the entire project was a success.

“If I’d pitched for more than three sites, I would have been spreading myself too thin, and I knew it. Remember, all the risk areas of the project belong to you as the developer. You’re bringing three things together: The site, resources and capital. But ultimately the risk is yours — the rewards too — but successful projects are completed because the risks have been mitigated.”

This isn’t to say Xoliswa has any interest in being a small business. She’s always aimed high, and wants to move through Africa and beyond. But she’s building careful foundations to ensure a sustainable business that can handle growth and build on it.

The lesson: It’s always good to aim high. Most entrepreneurs have the mantra that they’ll say yes first and then figure out how to do it. In this way, great things are achieved. But you also have to be realistic. Plan for success, ensure you have all the components in place, and then deliver — but don’t over-promise. If you know you have certain limitations, work within them and deliver an exceptional product, rather than over-extending yourself and only achieving a mediocre result.

Related: Celebrating The Multi-Faceted Woman

4. Learning is the gateway to growth

In 2010, Xoliswa enrolled in an Executive MBA at UCT’s Graduate School of Business. When she entered the programme, Daku Group’s turnover was R18 million. By 2014 it was R100 million. During the two-year programme her company’s turnover dipped. This was expected. Running a company while completing an MBA is no easy task, and there were gaps in the business while she focused on her personal and business development.

It had been a strategic decision — some short-term pain and losses for long-term gain.

“My business was seven years old, and I recognised that something was holding us back. We were experiencing growth challenges, and I wasn’t finding a way to move us forward. We had some incredible projects under our belt, but we had hit a ceiling.”

Xoliswa took stock of what she was facing. “First, I was playing across a lot of spaces: Investment and trade, the legal field, women empowerment, and I was struggling to find mentors. People were coming to me to mentor them. That’s flattering, and I want to give back, but mentors have always been critical for me. I felt that my personal development had stalled.”

Studying further seemed to be the only solution. Xoliswa had already completed her law degree, a certificate programme in Economics, the Management Development Programme (MAP) at Stellenbosch University, and a project management course through Cranfield University. An MBA was the next logical step.

“As a lawyer who structured deals, I understood that growth comes from following a clear path. I’d worked on a lot of different elements and now needed to pull those loose threads together. I believed the tools an MBA would give me would help me do that.

“It’s a tough choice. It’s hard work, and you’re spending hours away from your business. I saw the impact of that first hand. Our turnover dropped. But, without the tools and lessons the MBA gave me, I wouldn’t have reached the next level. My growth had stalled. I’d been working on my expertise, my name and reputation. Now I needed to get the right foundations and systems into place for the business.”

The lesson: Great business leaders never stop focusing on their own personal development. The more you learn — particularly across disciplines — the more you’ll achieve. Business courses, business books, podcasts, mentors and associations are just some of the ways you can hone your skills and learn from your peers.

5. It’s all about the balance sheet

One of the biggest lessons Xoliswa has learnt along her journey is that in many respects, a high turnover is just vanity.

“For a long time we were chasing cash, and it led to far too much diversification in the business. For example, I launched a construction company so that we could build our own developments. The result was two-fold. We diluted ourselves too much, instead of staying niche and focused, and we increased our risk exponentially.

“It’s great to say you’re developing a project worth more that R200 million, but your exposure is R7 million. In those terms, it’s not as valuable. Instead, we made the decision in 2014 to partner with experts, shorten our turnaround time for implementation, focus on maximum returns instead of turnover, and to build our assets under management.

“As a result of this shift in strategy — which is designed to build real wealth — our turnover hasn’t grown since 2014, but we’ve grown our assets under management to R800 million, and we’ve increased our margins. The business is in a much healthier space.”

The lesson: Understand your strategy, and what you’re trying to achieve. A high turnover is meaningless if you’ve got poor cash reserves and limited assets. On the other hand, higher margins can be far more valuable than a high turnover. At the end of the day, it’s all about the balance sheet.

Related: Hold the Testosterone: Must a Woman Behave Like a Man to Succeed?


Lessons from an MBA

MBA

An MBA is a large investment, from both a monetary and time perspective. Given the hours of sleep she was losing, Xoliswa was determined to make the most of her Executive MBA through GSB, and to implement what she was learning in her business.

“The reality is that you can be the darling of your industry, with an exceptional reputation, and a decent business — but then the realities of growth set in. Cash flow is a problem, management issues, client issues. These happen to all growing businesses. The question is, what are you going to do about them?” Here are the key gaps Xoliswa identified for her own business.

1. What’s my unique selling point?

I realised that I’d become a jack of all trades within my industry. Daku Group had no clear selling proposition. In fact, we were often asked what it was exactly that we did. You can’t be the go-to player in your industry if no-one is sure precisely what you do. We needed to pare down what we offered, and be more focused and niche. It’s scary at first, but we’ve built a far more robust business by not taking on anything and everything that comes our way.

2. Delegate

I realised I had a disjointed team, with no clear leadership when I wasn’t around. No business owner can be everywhere at once. I needed a senior management team who was on the ground and could build a competent, efficient team. I was outsourcing too much as well, instead of bringing in specialist talent. I realised that I was boxing the business, but not the people. First you need a great team, and then you can build the right financial systems.

3. Understand your strengths

I have no interest in the small stuff. My focus is on creating long-term opportunities through analysis, and providing the right opportunities to investors in synergistic environments. The problem was that even though I don’t like the small stuff, I wasn’t employing people who excel at the finer details. This affected my capital.

As a business owner, your drive, work ethic and independent approach and offering are so important. But you also need to let go. Your teams are the best tools you have to grow your business, but only if you give them the opportunity and space to thrive. Understand what you bring to the business and where the gaps lie, and then find the best people to fill those gaps.

key-business-insights-for-daku-group

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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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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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