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Two Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started A Small Business

The Small Business Awards winners will be announced in Gauteng on 30 August and in the Western Cape on 1 September.

Steven Cohen

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One of the questions other entrepreneurs most often ask me is what I wish I had known when we first started the Pastel business in 1990. Looking back over the past 26 years, I can distil my answer into two key lessons: Hire the right people from the start and if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. Any entrepreneur that sets out with these two pieces of wisdom is on a faster track to success.

Getting the right employees on board

When I think back on the trajectory of our business – from a small accounting software start-up to JSE-listed software and services group to part of a FTSE 100 company – one factor stands out as a key to our success. That is the role that key people have played in our growth and ensuring our sustainability.

I don’t really like using the word ‘hiring’ because that makes it sound cold and transactional – I prefer to think of it as convincing the right people to join our team. In a world where products are similar, good service is a given, and technology is commoditised, good people are your real competitive edge.

Related: How The 702/CapeTalk Small Business Awards With Sage One Have Boosted Small Businesses

Great people are the foundation of any successful and profitable business. By great people, I mean employees who are professional, motivated, collaborative, trustworthy, and customer-focused; in addition, people who share your company culture and believe in your vision. People like that are the key to unlocking your growth and potential.

Don’t rush into hiring people because you feel under pressure and don’t hire the cheapest person – get the best who you can afford or develop smart, young people who are setting out in their careers.

The right employees are the best investment you can make in your future growth.

Sit down and do some planning

I’m a guy who tends to do things by the seat of my pants; I’ve always valued gut feel and still do. Yet, over the years, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the importance of planning. I find that the process of planning is often more important than the plan itself.

As Dwight D. Eisenhower put it: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

For me, what this means is that sitting down to plan forces you to think through what your business is about and where it’s going. That’s important given how much of a daily scramble and hustle it is to run a small business.

You can draw plans for where your revenues come from, your customers, your cost base and other elements of your business, knowing completely that reality may have other ideas. It’s very likely that you’ll need to adapt a two-year or five-year business plan in response to the needs of your customers, a changing business environment, and a fluid regulatory space.

That’s fine – you can change your plans or even throw them away. The effort still won’t be wasted because you’ll know your business better. Having a plan is about doing things in a conscious way and working towards a set of goals and objectives – it is not about constraining your flexibility.

Related: Small Business Should Be Higher On The Local Government Election Agenda

Closing words

Like many of the businesses we serve, we started small and have grown beyond what seemed imaginable. Another key lesson I have learnt from the past 26 years is that  it takes hard work and human sacrifice to turn a dream business idea into a way of life. But the sweat, blood and tears are all worth it when you look back on what you have built and how it has made a difference to your customers and employees.

As head of Sage One for AAMEA, Steven Cohen is overseeing the growth and development of Sage’s cloud-based accounting and payroll solutions in Africa, Australia, the Middle East and Asia. Before taking his current post, Cohen dedicated his 25-year career to Sage Pastel, the innovative business software company he founded with partners Ivan Epstein and Alan Osrin in 1989. During this time, Steven has held several management positions in the company, including financial director, chief operating officer, and managing director. He has played a central role in the company's growth from a start-up to a part of the JSE-listed Softline Group, right up to its present incarnation as part of Sage plc, a FTSE 100 company. A charted accountant by qualification, Steven has driven Sage Pastel's approach to keeping accounting at the cutting edge of technology and turning accounting software into a business management tool. Now, he will apply his skills and experience to Sage AAMEA’s strategically important and rapidly growing cloud business.

Entrepreneur Today

Uber-like Insurance Platform Is Revolutionising The World Of Insurance Claims

the 4-Sure platform, which was launched two short years ago by actuary Shalen Moodley and a collective of seasoned tech gurus, is to provide value-added services that benefit the financial services industry. All partners had substantial success across Africa introducing loan origination platforms for leading banks before deciding to tackle the problems existing in the insurance claims fulfilment process.

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A multi-sided, digitally-driven business platform that has been wholly-developed and launched in South Africa is ‘uberising’ the local short-term insurance industry by transforming the traditional claim fulfilment landscape.

Developed locally by Insuretech sensation 4-Sure and headed up by actuary-turned-entrepreneur Shalen Moodley, the 4-Sure platform seamlessly connects the claims ecosystem consisting of the customer, broker, insurer, service providers and suppliers and manages all complex interactions and sequencing required to deliver superb customer experience, optimal claim cost and fast turnaround times. 

“The new system, which eliminates virtually all the manual processes and “waste work” involved in dealing with a claim, also provides enhanced opportunities for small businesses to compete for insurance claim work traditionally only available to a select few. Simultaneously, it reduces the fraud risks associated with the manual allocation of claims, and reduces costs across the board”, says Moodley.

“There are several weaknesses inherent in the appointment of the traditional insurance panels, “says Moodley. Relationships between the insurer’s agent and supplier base can result in some contractors being favoured above others. The payment of “incentives” by service providers as a reward for getting work can also skew the allocation process and drive massive cost inflations. Furthermore, costs can vary for similar jobs and the use of assessors for approval of routine jobs results in time delays and increased administration costs.”

“Most seriously for most insurers, is that contact with the customer is lost during the claim fulfilment process – they are disintermediated. Often, the result is dissatisfaction on the part of the customer, disrupted processes, unnecessary delays and often the possibility of an unhappy customer withdrawing their insurance and other investments with the associated brands of the insurer.

After extensive discussions with the industry regarding problems faced with settling claims, 4-Sure concluded that reformation of the system should be based on shorter, effective communication structures, the ‘democratisation’ of the panel system and the strategic use of technology to improve customer delivery and satisfaction levels.

Related: Why Start-ups Like Uber Stumble When They Scale

The answer was the building of an entire ecosystem based on the use of sophisticated regressive algorithms that made the ‘Circle of Service’ between insurer and claimant transparent and frictionless. Creating an extensive database, making software available to service providers and connecting suppliers of raw materials as well as early payment mechanisms completed the service circle. As well as speeding up claim response times, the process was also efficient and fundamentally more effective.

Taking inspiration from the concept launched by the Uber transport system, the insurance platform includes a vastly increased list of qualified and rated service providers. As in the ride-sharing service, becoming listed requires that several stringent criteria are met by service providers. When a claim is registered – including the time when the customer requires assistance – it drops into the platform. Appropriate service providers listed can then respond and confirm their availability. They are then required to be on site at the time stipulated by the customer, undertake the work and then complete a Mobile App-driven reporting process for the insurer’s records (including before and after photographs, assessments and costings).

To participate in the platform a service provider must have a smartphone and the software, provided free by 4-Sure. Part of the package includes a service provider ‘scheduler’s’ desktop package that enables job scheduling, field technician allocation and all the information relating to the job to be collated and electronically submitted for payment to the insurer.

“For a sole trader or SME, one of the greatest challenges to building a sustainable business is controlling cash flow. Service providers on 4-Sure do not have to carry an extensive array of raw materials to fulfil allocated insurance claims work. Once they are on site, have assessed the repair work and had it approved within minutes, the service provider is able to visit a 4-Sure approved partner supplier (Builder’s Warehouse, Penny Pinchers, Buco, Plumblink and others) and pick up the required stock.

“They are then using their 4-Sure Mobile App to get the necessary materials and the outlet then bills the insurance company concerned directly through the 4-Sure software for the expenditure. Because of the volumes involved, we have been able to negotiate favourable prices for these services which are now on offer at more than 400 service points across the country.  The service provider bills only for the time and labour spent on the job at the agreed rates. Their bills are then submitted using the 4-Sure software, go directly to the insurer and are generally settled within 24-48 hours.”

“As smaller operators are no longer waiting between 30 and 60 days for their money, they are happy to complete routine jobs for a set fee.  Depending on the service they deliver and the ratings they receive, they are in control of just how much work comes their way.  As a job is loaded on the system and service providers then bid for the work, competition is assured and opportunities for work are equal across the spectrum of service providers – a new paradigm which rewards performance with more work and manages the non-performers off the platform.”

Further value is added to service providers by free access to geo-positioning systems, which not only plots their way to their closest parts supplier but also to the customer’s property.  Jobs that appear on their systems also cover the areas in which they choose to operate. As is the case with their Uber driver colleagues, those closest to the customer can make their presence known and compete for the work. Those who feel the costs of reaching the site do not make a job worthwhile simply do not respond to the job alert,” says Moodley.

For insurers, who can track the response times of service providers in real-time and contact them electronically if they are late on site, the major benefit is that the loss of customer contact at the point of handing over a claim to an incident manager no longer exists.

Related: How Uber Grew To A Billion Dollar Business (And How You Can Make Money With It)

The typical flow of a job is made easier by:

  • Insurers were able to use a sophisticated eco-system that is a centralised platform connecting all players in the supply chain, facilitating a seamless claims fulfilment process.
  • Customer contacts their insurer via their contact centre, their website, or a digital self-service channel and this claim, is electronically dropped into the 4-Sure to facilitate the claim process automatically.
  • A claim’s details being logged directly on the 4-Sure platform instead of being referred to an incident manager. The message enables specific skills, customer location, a time required for service and other factors to be selected so that it can be responded to by competing service providers.

Explains Moodley, co-founder of 4-Sure and one of the innovators behind the home-grown platform that caters specifically for local needs and is believed to be the leading services of its type anywhere in the world:

“4-Sure has succeeded in becoming the first, fully-digital insurance claims platform to provide a truly customer-centric experience. The system is flexible and although the present focus is on non-motor claims, other avenues, including motor insurance and non-insurance opportunities are being investigated and developed,” says Moodley.

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Entrepreneur Today

Win A Seat At 10X-e’s 10X-ECUTION Bootcamp (Valued At R5900)

Automatically receive 20% off the Bootcamp just by entering!

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Transform chaos into systematically achieving business goals, at scale. Hosted by founder, Jason Goldberg

Enter by emailing your company name, your name and your designation to Monique: mchaitezvi@edgegrowth.com

About 10X-e:

Scaling – the Bermuda Triangle of growth – is hard, and fraught with failure. Very few of even the top 1% of ventures succeed at scaling, mostly due to poor execution, due to lack of experience scaling businesses. The 10X Program brings the ‘Science of Scale’ and seasoned Scale Up Leaders to help founders navigate the Bermuda Triangle of growth

Our team has helped some of the Continent’s most exciting high growth businesses scale up through the most treacherous parts of the journey. We tailor make multiple workshops to the specific needs of you, your team, and your business. Our workshops serve to address the most pressing challenges that your business faces, helping remove the hurdles towards 10X growth.

For more information on 10X-e, visit: https://10xe.co.za/ 

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Entrepreneur Today

Off The Beaten Track

What Tourism Month means in South Africa and how Mango Airlines is focusing on local opportunities.

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This September, being Tourism Month, we have so much to talk about in South Africa, and so many people to engage with, both domestically and abroad. We are privileged to be able to leverage a broad range of destinations – arguably world-class in nature, and they expand way beyond a beautiful mountain, and an ecosystem of game.

The vast majority of leisure tourists, however, remain attracted to the Mother City and various Safari destination, while business tourists tend to stick to hub cities for short durations of time before departing again.

“There is a golden opportunity to expand on the same offerings – while not detracting from them in any way. Our responsibility is to drive tourism into new areas, really emphasising the differentiators that are incredibly attractive to local and international tourists,” said Benediction Zubane, Head of Marketing at Mango Airlines.

“Often tourists visit one of the more well-known sites in an area, and are completely unaware of the other features and destinations close by. We’re seeing a lot of success in township tourism which goes to show how diversifying can really drive new tourism opportunities,” explained Zubane.

Related: Travel Tour Agency Sample Business Plan

According to Statistics South Africa survey on Tourism and Migration, nearly 3.5 million international travellers visited South Africa in August 2017. Top numbers were tourists from USA, UK, Germany, France and The Netherlands, with African visitors primarily coming from SADC countries. Zubane added, “This means there is vast opportunity to begin engaging with travellers in new countries across the globe. We need to become our own best ambassador, talking-up our famous and lesser known destinations, proudly showcases our uniqueness. We should also be tourists in our own country and start exploring the wonders of the Rainbow Nation.”

Mango is passionate about helping its SMEs and entrepreneurial community to successfully overcome the unique challenges facing the tourism industry: “There has never been a more opportune time for small businesses and entrepreneurs to benefit positively from tourism in South Africa, and we hope to celebrate alongside our SME community as they fly high – both literally and figuratively,” he concludes.

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