I have recently started a small business. I would like for my ventures to grow, with some assistance. How do I move forward?
The starting point for any venture is some form of a plan. I am not talking about a telephone-directory thick business plan, nor a plan developed for you by someone else in order to try and raise funding, but rather a tight, concise plan that lays out your core business, your potential customers, your product or service focus and the primary actions you need to do in the short-term to get the concept off the ground.
There are many good templates for a simple strategic plan available online, such as the Business Model Canvas. You should also look at what business development programmes, if any, there are out there that may be able to offer some support.
Finally, you should approach SEDA and see what support they could possibly provide. Find more information on SEDA here.
What tools will make my small business run smoothly?
As a small business owner, it’s normal to find yourself being an accountant, a salesperson, an operations manager and a PA all at once. Here are five tools to help you wear multiple hats without feeling overwhelmed.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges of owning your own business is staying on top of administrative tasks in addition to getting your actual core work completed.
It’s a reality that these admin tasks – from invoicing customers to collaborating on a document – are typically done by the business owners themselves, because there’s not always budget available for any support staff.
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Here are five tools that can help you manage your business more seamlessly, leaving you free to chase your entrepreneurial dream.
1. Online invoicing software
While creating invoices manually may work in the beginning, this task can quickly become time consuming and hard to control as your business grows.
Manual invoicing also means that things can slip through the net, so you forget to chase outstanding invoices that can in turn impact your cash flow.
A cloud invoicing tool like Freshbooks lets you create invoices online and email them to clients from within the interface.
Besides an easy dashboard showing you how much you’re owed at any point in time, Freshbooks also lets you print reports to use for accounting purposes.
Best of all, your clients can login to their own portal and view invoices, timesheets and more.
2. Cloud file sharing software
Whether you’re on your own or working in a team of 20 people, at some point you’ll need to share documents with another party like a team member or supplier.
These tools allow you to upload and store data (presentations, photos and more) on your cloud-based drive, and then share them easily with anyone you wish.
The best part? The basic versions of both of these tools are free, so it’s as easy as creating an account and you’re off.
3. Asana – project management
A large factor in a project’s success is how efficiently it’s managed internally, because this impacts whether you stick to deadline and how much the project costs in the end.
If you’re sick of sifting through emails relating to a particular project, or can’t keep track of who’s doing what, an online collaboration tool like Asana can help.
With Asana, you can create and assign tasks within a project to team members, and start group conversations that all members can see.
In essence, team members now know exactly what is due when, who’s working on what and whether there are any snags. This keeps work streamlined – and removes the dependence on email as a workflow management tool.
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4. Shared calendars
If you don’t need the full monty in terms of project management, a simple shared calendar can go a long way to keeping employees on the same page.
Using a collaborative cloud system such as Google Calendar that’s shared with everyone on your team means people can quickly find meeting times and holiday weeks that suit everyone else.
Google Calendar can also be synced across multiple devices like your phone and tablet, so you can always stay in touch with scheduling.
5. Other Google Products
Several products within the Google fold have already been mentioned above, but there are others that can help you run your small business more efficiently. If you run a business online, Google Analytics is Google’s free analytics software that tells you who came to your site from where, and what their interactions on the site were.
Finally, if you have a business with one or more physical locations, Google My Business allows you to get your business details (address, pictures, videos, opening hours) onto Google’s search results for free.
Expand or die?
Tips on expanding a business abroad
Should I expand abroad? I am currently considering expanding my kids’ clothing business abroad, with a view to broadening my customer base. Can you possibly offer me some advice on how to go about determining whether this would be a feasible idea, and if there is profit to be made in foreign countries?
Expanding overseas is seen as a natural step in the growth of many businesses, but there are a number of things to take into account. Only after you feel you have covered all of these areas properly should you press ahead.
First take stock of your position in your home market. If you don’t yet command enough of a market share, you may want to reconsider whether now actually is the time to go abroad is.
Remember you are going somewhere where the regulations, economic outlook and customer behaviour can be totally different, so it is even more of a risk than your home market.
I often see entrepreneurs who have less than 5% of their home market trying to go abroad, which simply doesn’t make sense to me. To put it another way – if you haven’t yet cracked Cape Town, don’t go after California!
Understand the market
Every little detail about the trading environment you are going into needs to be understood. There are some huge, multinational firms that have ventured out of their country only to get a nasty surprise. Think about the manufacturing regulations, which is particularly important for your type of business.
Also look at things like HR laws and tax requirements, and crucially, the relationship between currency and inflation rates. I once had a business in Turkey and my profits were being seriously reduced because of the due to unpredictable inflation and currency. I would say there needs to be around 6-12 months of solid research before you make that move abroad.
A more robust infrastructure
Lawyers, accountants, even translators – these will all be critical figures in ensuring your business copes within a new market. They make up the infrastructure of a business, and the stronger the infrastructure, the better you will be.
These people all need to be experts, and I don’t just mean being able to speak the language! They should know all about the business environment in that country, as well as general customer behaviour.
What types of garments are most popular? What times of the year are best from a clothing point of view? They will essentially be your guides who help you come to the correct strategic decisions.
I would strongly recommend finding an international partner. Don’t try and be a hero and go it alone. Working in conjunction with somebody who knows the industry and country will leave you less vulnerable.
You may have to share some equity with them, which a lot of entrepreneurs don’t like doing – but consider this. Would you rather own 60% of a business that has real value and growth prospects, or 100% of a failing business?
Remember the partner will also be able to introduce you to key contacts, which can increase your pipeline.
Can productivity tools help me?
No time for conference calls and team talks? It can be difficult to gather the entire team in the same place at the same time. Why not use these tried-and-tested tools to help you manage your team projects better. Most of them are free.
Can productivity tools help me?
Time management is a challenge for everyone, but even more so for those creating a new business. Juggling all the day-to-day development activities and the support functions as well as directing staff takes its toll. As your business grows, so does your need for collaboration.
Three team tools
- Asana is a web-based project management system, free for up to 15 users. It is a type of ‘teamwork without using email’. Many entrepreneurs have adopted Asana, they use it to set and assign tasks to themselves and their team members. All members can view, comment and update their progress. It must cut down on meeting time, writing reports and providing written feedback.
- Trello is a bit like Asana but more of an organiser and works well on mobile apps. It has a to-do list and is a bit more visual as it uses cards and boards. You can even use this to make sense of your personal life.
- Primarily through word-of-mouth alone, Basecamp has become the world’s number one project management tool. For the last ten years, emerging companies have been switching to Basecamp because it’s famously easy-to-use and reliable. It’s free for 60 days.
Three social media marketing tools
Social media provides a great opportunity to connect with customers and prospects and share useful and valuable content. Most people are familiar with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram but managing multiple platforms is becoming time-consuming. And are these the best and only social media outlets for your products and services?
- Buffer helps you manage multiple social media accounts at once. ‘Buffer for business’ is designed to provide the means to schedule posts to Twitter, Facebook and any many other applications on your time plan. You can schedule your updates for any time in the future, which is great for well-planned marketing campaigns.
- The main competition is Hootsuite, which is just as popular and very similar. It uses one central dashboard where you can track your social media campaigns and it produces simple and easy to read reports. It even knows the best time to schedule Twitter and Facebook messages using their AutoScheduler.
- Don’t overlook LinkedIn. It is especially useful for recruiting skilled staff. You can also use it to highlight your wins, share fresh content and commentary, (not marketing copy) and engage in groups with like-minded people. Your personal profile can be linked to your business page so make sure it showcases all your achievements.
You probably need to find a system that can help you personally as well. A productivity tool that is highly rated is Evernote. You can record your flashes of inspiration in your notebook but you can also share files, reminders and attachments, even voice notes. The Clipper is very useful; you can save articles or important links. The big plus is that Evernote works well on most devices and the basic plan is free.
Invest in a bit of time to get up to speed, it will save you time later.
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