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Demystify Business Finance

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, many businesses are suffering unnecessarily from a lack of financial literacy amongst staff.

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It’s not unusual to have staff who struggle to understand the basic financial facts of their organisations – but this is easily remedied by the relevant training, say experts.

Effective financial literacy training for non-finance staff can boost entrepreneurial development, staff innovation, financial prudence, and better decision-making processes amongst managers, all of which will lead to increased profit, says Colin Firer, Programme Director of the course Finance for Non-Financial Managers, which runs at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB).

“The need for non-financial personnel to understand financial statements and financial jargon is often not realised, and businesses suffer as a result,” says Firer.

Identifying red flags

This is a truth that is internationally understood, yet not acted upon often enough, specialists believe. Gene Siciliano, author of the book Finance for Non-Financial Managers, writes on his website: “We are often told that the effort to learn to build and use workable budgets is just too much.

For some managers, planning a budget is more frustrating than just hoping the numbers will all work out, if they only sell enough widgets or whatever. But I won’t quote the business failure rates amongst companies in this range.”

Locally, the picture is similar, Firer agrees. “We have seen South Africans becoming aware that financial literacy can make a huge difference to the overall sustainability of their organisations as well as to their personal lives,” he says. “Furthermore, it is essential in identifying possible ‘red flags’ in a company’s financial situation.

If you want to know why your income statement shows a profit but all you have to show for it is an overdrawn bank account, you need to empower yourself by understanding some basic financial principles.

“If more non-financial personnel had been financially literate in Leisurenet for example, perhaps someone could have raised the red flag before the company collapsed. It is a key requirement for managers in the current market context.”

Developing literacy

Developing this literacy is the main objective of the UCT GSB course which runs this May and again in October in Cape Town.

“We aim to make the language of accounting and finance accessible and easy to understand,” Firer says. “Those attending will be taught how to read an organisation’s financial statements and explore their parameters.  They will be given the tools to analyse cost behaviour and financial performance; will participate in creating a financial plan; and they will gain the knowledge and confidence needed to contribute to creating value within their organisation.”

No prior exposure to accounting or finance is necessary in order to benefit from this type of education, says Firer. The course is specifically designed for non-financial people from any sector, those responsible for meeting budgets and containing costs, and for anyone wanting to understand the key drivers of performance in organisations.

“Those who gain an understanding of the language of finance will be better able to engage with financial professionals and appreciate their points of view,” he says. “They will also be better able to examine the financial health of an organisation, identify problems and inefficiencies and contribute towards improving financial performance.

“They will better understand the drivers and measurement of costs, and be able to construct a financial plan and establish its financial feasibility.”

The first course runs from 20 – 25 May 2012 at the UCT Graduate School of Business. A second course also runs from 15 – 19 October. For more information, contact (021) 406 1323 or SMS “Finance” to 31497. Standard Rates Apply.

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South African Students Win R50 000 In The Universities Business Challenge

Students from Mangosuthu University of Technology beat 500 students from 13 different universities across South Africa.

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The Overlings from Mangosuthu University of Technology are the 2018 winners of Cognity Advisory’s Universities Business Challenge (UBC), sponsored by General Electric (GE). The winning team of four students are walking away with R50,000 to turn their business idea into reality.

Launched in July this year, the UBC has seen 500 students from 13 different universities across South Africa participate in a business simulation competition designed to develop entrepreneurship skills.

When the competition launched, all teams were challenged to form virtual companies and to virtually manufacture and sell bicycles.

The final 10 teams were from the University of Limpopo, Mangosuthu University of Technology, Vaal University of Technology, University of KwaZulu-Natal and North-West University.

During the two-day final, the teams played six rounds of simulations. Each simulation gave the teams a chance to re-evaluate their progress and better certain areas that needed improving. The winning team realised during one of their simulations that in order to maximise profits they would need to introduce two new products and market it differently from their initial product. They paid special attention to their customer’s needs. 

The aim of the UBC was designed to tackle South Africa’s high level of youth unemployment. Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) announced that South Africa’s official unemployment rate increased by 0.3 of a percentage point to 27.5% in the third quarter of 2018.

Nkosinathi Sokhulu from the winning team said, “Even though we didn’t have a great presentation we made the most profit. This experience taught us a lot about ourselves and business. Most of the decisions that we made came from serious debates. We learnt that market research is crucial when starting a business. We learnt that marketing starts and ends with the customer.”

Related: 20 South African Side-Hustles You Can Start This Weekend

“Based on this market research information we realised that it was important for us to introduce two new products and this, in addition to the main product we were selling, helped us to maximise profits. We saw an opportunity to add more products and it paid off” said Mbali Tshozi.

Tope Toogun, development advisor and CEO of Cognity Advisory said, “All the teams showed tremendous promise and I was very impressed by their levels of engagement with one another and their tenacity.”

“We really want to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary skills to not only start a business but to run it effectively. While we have selected one winner, our hope is that each team has benefitted by having learned the skills needed in the workplace.”

“The competition is designed to develop the ‘soft skills’ that are important for those wanting to set up their own business or simply be successful at work. With rising unemployment and ongoing talent shortages, having these skills is crucial for those wanting to get a job.”

The UBC, now in its second year in South Africa, will continue into its third year in 2019 and will run as the Africa Enterprise Challenge (AEC).

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Use The December Shutdown Period To Do Just That: Shut Down

by Greg Morris, CEO, Sebata Holdings

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Most businesses – retail and entertainment excluded – resemble ghost towns during the first and last weeks of the year. Energy levels are low in December, and employees daydream about cocktails on the beach. Come January, it takes a few days to get back into the swing of things. Before we know it, South Africa takes another extended holiday in April.

We’re accused of having a “holiday culture” in South Africa. That’s a fair comment. We get 12 public holidays a year, which is more than most countries. And many people use their annual leave strategically in April and December to maximise their time off. As a result, we only really work for 10 months of the year, while other countries work for 11 months.

There’s no doubt that public holidays affect the economy. One extra public holiday in 2011 resulted in an estimated R7 billion loss in turnover. But there’s also a lot to be said for taking time off. And when we know the holidays are coming, we can prepare for them, so employees make the most of their downtime and start the new year on a strong footing.

Burnout is not good for business…

Productivity and motivation are like fuel tanks. While driving, the fuel dries up. At some point, we need to fill up, otherwise we’ll break down. People are the same; we can’t run on empty. Weekends are one thing, but in our culture of always-connected busyness, we don’t get a chance to recharge over weekends. That’s why we need the longer break in December.

A Pulse Institute study found that, when employees are not rested, they experience:

  • 23% reduced concentration
  • 18% reduced memory function
  • 9% increased difficulty in performing tasks

Fatigue-related productivity losses amount to R26,000 per employee per year. Sleeplessness can also result in mistakes and increased absenteeism, accidents, or injury.

Well-rested employees, however, are happier and more creative, engaged, and productive. They get more done in less time than their sleep-deprived, low-energy colleagues.

Related: Year-End Doesn’t Have To Be A Pain For Your Business

… but if you’re going to burn the midnight oil…

Businesses often think of December as a slow period that will harm the bottom line. Yes, it can be disruptive and there will be financial impacts. But if you’re going to keep the doors open til the end, this is the perfect time for internal housekeeping. Even the most efficient and streamlined businesses can improve some internal projects or processes.

Allow teams to be inwardly focused during this time, so that you start the new year with less to worry about. Whether that’s planning for 2019, reflecting on what worked and what didn’t in 2018, cleaning up databases, servicing air cons and office machines, connecting with customers over coffee, updating your website, or creating new marketing campaigns, employees can achieve a lot when they’re not focused on the day-to-day grind.

Our best ideas come to us when we’re relaxed and not thinking about them. (If you’ve ever scrawled on the steamed-up shower door, you’ve experienced downtime creativity.)

Make the most of skeleton staff time in December. Host fun creativity sessions that have nothing to do with work. Pay for your people to complete short online courses that will give them skills and motivation boosts. When they do go on holiday, perhaps their new knowledge will result in a major ‘a-ha moment’ around the family braai.

Gone fishing

My best advice for businesses that are shutting down in a few weeks is this: shut down. Since the business is not generating income, everything that’s left running – that one employee watching the phone that never rings; that one light left on – hurts the bottom line.

Encourage teams to disconnect. Don’t expect them to answer mails and don’t contact them about work while they’re on holiday – unless it’s an emergency. Block access to mails if you have to, Volkswagen style. Give your people time to think, reflect, and sleep.

When we respect employees’ time and give them freedom to work when they’re most productive, we develop motivated, positive workforces who are enthusiastic about achieving the business’s goals. They work harder to get the job done and, in our experience, actually finish projects ahead of deadline because they want to be able to switch off and go fishing.

Related: Year-End Reviews Are Not Always A Positive Experience

Power down

Downtime is often seen as wasted time. We don’t take breaks, we eat lunch at our desks, and we work when we’re sick and should be at home. But working longer hours doesn’t mean that we’ll get more done. In fact, it can be enormously counter-productive.

Neuroscientist David Levitin cautions against the “false break”, when we feel guilty for taking time off and compulsively check emails. Napping, daydreaming, and “taking true vacations without work”, he says, is biologically restorative and essential for rebooting cognitive energy. So, if you’re going to shut down, do it properly. The same business challenges will be there when you get back. But you could solve some of them while you’re sleeping.

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Seasonal SMEs: Don’t Spend Your Extra Cash All At Once

Save a portion of festive season profits for an emergency fund.

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The festive season is a time when many seasonal small and medium enterprises (SMEs) reap the rewards of increased consumer spending, such as additional sales and accommodation bookings from the influx of holiday makers and festive season shoppers. This spike in earnings offers the ideal opportunity for these businesses to save some of the extra money that they make for an emergency fund.

This is according to Jeremy Lang, regional general manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), who says that a major risk faced by many businesses is their vulnerability to an unexpected financially-draining mishap such as a big client loss, a lawsuit, or any accident that is not covered by insurance.

“Despite this, few SME owners have an emergency fund in place to deal with such unforeseen events,” he says.

“This is understandable since a growing business tends to require a lot of cash to move forward. Another likely reason for this is because most SME owners are more focused on the immediate practicalities of building their business, rather than on vague risk assessments and planning. By nature, entrepreneurs also tend to be chronically optimistic about the future good luck of their business,” adds Lang.

“However, considering South Africa’s underperforming economy and rising consumer price inflation, it is essential that all SME owners save for a rainy day. Those that have boosted seasonal business have an advantage and should capitalise on this by putting aside a portion of their seasonal profits,” he explains.

Related: 5 Small Business Money-Saving Myths

When saving towards an emergency fund, it is key to set a goal, Lang points out. “A good rule of thumb is to have three to six months’ worth of overheads set aside, but even just one month’s expenses are better than nothing.”

The next step is to decide what constitutes an emergency, he says. “If an emergency fund can be dipped into every time you want to avoid an awkward phone call to the landlord to say that the rent will be slightly late this month, it won’t last long. A true emergency is one that threatens the survival of the business.”

With this in mind, thinking through and writing down a list of possible emergencies that would justify the use of the fund is a good risk-assessment exercise for any business, suggests Lang.

Finally, some thought needs to be given to where an emergency fund should be kept, he says.

“Gambling with the money on the stock exchange defeats the purpose. A money-market account is a better option, but it may be worth considering an account where the funds aren’t too easily accessible, so there’s no temptation to dip into it on a whim. On the other hand, it should not be so inaccessible that you cannot access it fairly soon when an emergency does strike.”

As such, Lang recommends a set of notice deposit accounts with varying notice periods so that a limited amount can be accessed immediately, and some a little later, which allows for some interest to accrue while the money, hopefully, will not be used any time soon.

“However, ultimately the will on the part of the business owner to attain these savings is critically important. The cash demands in a business are so constant that any vague or half-hearted attempt to establish an emergency fund will fail. It will have to be a conscious and disciplined effort by the business owner,” Lang concludes.

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