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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.

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Entrepreneur Today

Top 22 Start-ups Chosen For Final Selection Days – Startupbootcamp Africa

After receiving 1,004 applications from all over the world, the SBC team in conjunction with the programme’s corporate sponsors have narrowed the applicants down to 22 top-tier tech start-ups that will be invited to the Final Selection Days on July 11th and 12th at PwC’s headquarters in Cape Town.

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SBC Africa received 1,004 total applications from 77 countries on 5 continents. The start-ups that applied were exceptionally impressive and have gained more traction in the market than the applicants for the 2017 cohort. The talent in Africa is phenomenal and the corporate sponsors and SBC team dedicated 2 weeks to narrow it down to the Top 22 to be invited to Final Selection Days.

“It’s been an intense process due to the exceptionally high calibre of start-ups applying to the programme from across the continent,” states Philip Kiracofe, co-founder and CEO of Startupbootcamp Africa. “From 1,004 applications we have managed to narrow down to 22 of the most creative teams tackling daunting African problems. One of the key differentiators for start-ups that participate in the SBC Accelerator is the opportunity to secure commercial contracts with our sponsors. In order to make it onto our Top 22, each start-up has been chosen by at least 2 sponsors for potential proof of concept projects. The 2018 cohort is already shaping up to be a milestone moment for Africa.”

Related: How to Name (Or In Some Cases, Rename) Your Company

Zachariah George, co-founder and Chief Investment Officer of Startupbootcamp Africa added, “The investment community across Africa is taking note of the significant traction and access to market that being an alumni of a global accelerator programme like ours provides. We are excited to further galvanize venture capital funding into tech startups through significant de-risking of business models and customer validation with our corporate partners globally.”

From the 22 teams that have been invited to the SBC Africa Final Selection Days, 10 will be selected to join the 2018 cohort. Over the span of the two Final Selection Days, the startups in attendance will have the opportunity to present their pitches to high-profile corporate sponsors, investors, thought leaders and industry experts and will have the chance to sit down with mentors and sponsors alike. At the end of Day Two, the Top 10 will be announced and will be welcomed to the Cape Town-based Accelerator that kicks off in August. During the 3-month period, they will have the opportunity to scale at an incredible pace and seal pilot and proof of concept deals with the corporate sponsors to the programme.

The SBC Africa Accelerator is anchored and endorsed by heavyweight corporate sponsors RCS, BNP Paribas Personal Finance, Nedbank, Old Mutual and PwC.

“We’ve seen an increase in the quality of start-ups applying to the programme. The awareness of the value of the programme has increased and the success of the first year of the bootcamp speaks for itself. More mature start-ups are also seeing the benefits of participating in Startupbootcamp Africa,” comments Stanley Gabriel, Head of Innovation at Old Mutual.

The Top 22 start-ups invited to the Final Selection Days come from 7 different countries. The numbers are as follows: 8 from Nigeria, 5 from South Africa, 3 from Uganda, 2 from the Ivory Coast, 2 from Kenya, 1 from Ghana and 1 from Ireland.

Related: Entrepreneurship Is All About Overcoming Obstacles

The names of the start-ups invited to Final Selection Days by country:

  • Nigeria: Bankly Technologies, Biyabot, CredPal, FriendsVow, Kudimoney Bank, Medikal HMS, NebulaPay, and ZEEZZ Planet Solutions.
  • South Africa: Brandbookalytics Big Data, ifileme, LÜLA, Prospa, and Akiba Digital
  • Uganda: CoinPesa Ltd, RoundBob Uganda, and Swipe 2 Pay
  • Ivory Coast: Digitech Group, and DISTRICASH
  • Kenya: Kakbima, and MPost
  • Ghana: Inclusive Financial Technologies
  • Ireland: Pago Payments

It has been an incredible 3-month scouting journey for SBC Africa and now that the Top 22 have been announced, the Final Selection Days is the only hurdle left before the Accelerator officially kicks off on 13 August 2018.

There are high expectations for the Top 10 of 2018 and if the quality of the start-ups at this stage is any indication, 2018 is set to be a great success for the African tech and innovation ecosystem.

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She Works Hard For Her Money – So Pay Her On Time

Sage research finds that female entrepreneurs suffer more negative effects from late payments than men. Charles Pittaway, Managing Director of Sage Pay, comments on the importance of equal pay for equal work.

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Women fight inequality and discrimination every day. They fight for equal pay for equal work. They challenge gender stereotypes in their careers and personal lives. They question unfair social and political norms. They unify under passionate causes, evidenced recently by the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns.

With female business builders making up nearly 40% of the global workforce – and heading up 72% of micro-enterprises and 40% of small enterprises in South Africa – any kind of discrimination is unacceptable from a cultural and economic point of view, especially when it involves failure to pay what is owed.

The impact of late payments on small businesses has been widely discussed as an issue that must be eradicated for all entrepreneurs, regardless of gender. But inequality still exists and more needs to be done to eradicate it.

Recent research by Sage highlights that this discrimination doesn’t just impact women in large corporates. Indeed, it identified a worrying trend: female entrepreneurs are more likely to suffer from late payments than their male counterparts.

South Africa was among the six regions (out of 11) surveyed by Sage that reported higher instances of women business builders being paid late. Businesses run by female entrepreneurs in South Africa report that 18% of invoices are paid late and 10% of invoices are written off as bad debt.

Small businesses cannot absorb these costs nor the lost hours spent on admin – amounting to R564 000 in South Africa. The result can be disastrous: in the next 12 months, 1 in 4 female entrepreneurs will prioritise chasing late payments to be more cost efficient, and ironically will become less productive. If these businesses are not paid on time, they will also struggle to pay bonuses and suppliers, and will be forced to delay investments in their businesses.

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

The fact that late or non-payments is a more common occurrence experienced by female entrepreneurs is part of a wider problem. Women report more instances of sexist comments, disregard for their business ambitions and lack of female mentors as significant underlying reasons why there is now a heightened cultural stigma around chasing late payments amongst female entrepreneurs – more so than men.

In South Africa, the stigma extends past culture, with 40% of Small & Medium Businesses failing to follow up on late payments to protect client relationships. Time and resources are also challenges, with 24% of small businesses saying they don’t have a dedicated resource to chase payments and 13% saying they don’t have time.

There is no place for bias in business – all entrepreneurs should be free to pursue their ambitions without suffering the consequences of these cultural barriers that are encountered far too often – regardless of gender.

Now is the time to disrupt and challenge these harmful stereotypes and create a force for good, making sure that small businesses – the engine room of all economies – are paid what they are duly owed for the services they deliver to our economy.

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Entrepreneur Today

#RiseToTheChallenge Now By Visiting The SleepOut™ Movement

The SleepOut™ Movement was born out of a desire to address homelessness as a threat to human dignity and the realisation of fundamental human rights. The SleepOut™ Movement is underpinned by the philosophies of Social Innovation and Engaging Business ‘As A Force for Change’.

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Primary Beneficiaries appointed by The CEO Sleepout Trust™ for 2018 are Liliesleaf Farm and Museum and The Qunu Food Security Project. These Primary Beneficiaries will be awarded a portion of funds raised from a series of The SleepOut™ Movement Events taking place during July this year honouring the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birthday. Donations by the Trust to Primary Beneficiaries from previous years’ events amounted to an impressive R38-Million.

“Action without vision is only passing time, vision without action is merely day dreaming, but vision with action can change the world!”, Nelson Mandela.

The SleepOut™ Movement brings together Businesses and Influencers to purposely and effectively address the Five Pillars that alleviate homelessness: Shelter, Nutrition, Healthcare, Education, and Community. Curated by social enterprise The Philanthropic Collection, whose mission is Creating Conscious Capital, The SleepOut™ Movement aims to spearhead innovation in philanthropy by moving beyond current practices and beliefs, employing business strategies to do good for others.

The SleepOut™ Movement’s mission in 2018 is embodied by its Special Chapters, The Nelson Mandela CEO SleepOut™ – Liliesleaf Edition and The Nelson Mandela Legacy SleepOut™ – Robben Island Edition.

Related: The Kindling Of The Entrepreneur Spirit

On Wednesday 11 July 2018, The Nelson Mandela CEO SleepOut™ – Liliesleaf Edition, aims to host 200 CEOs (each with four distinguished guests whom embody Madiba’s leadership and humanitarian qualities) as they #RiseToTheChallenge, spending a winter’s night at the iconic Liliesleaf Farm and Museum in Rivonia, Johannesburg.  In addition, an auction will be opened to participating CEO’s for Madiba’s outside bedroom at Liliesleaf where he, Madiba, spent countless hours writing, reading and reflecting. Opening bids start at R250 000.00 with an overall goal of raising R30-Million.

On Wednesday 18 July 2018 and what would have been Madiba’s 100th birthday, 67 Global Influencers, Business leaders and Celebrities will spend the night on Robben Island, inside the maximum-security prison and courtyard where Mandela spent 18 years. On this same night, an auction will be held for the highest bidder commencing at $250 00.00 to sleep inside Cell Number 7 – Madiba’s home during his imprisonment. The aim is to raise $6,7 million through our 67 Participants at a Pledge of $100,000.00 each.

As a Primary Beneficiary focused on Community Upliftment, Education and Nutrition, the Qunu Food Security Project is operated by Dr. Brylyne Chitsunge, Pan African Ambassador for Food Security, who stated, “Through the funds generated as a Primary Beneficiary of The SleepOut™ Movement our plan is to develop a platform for Agricultural Stakeholders to work with 250 members of the Qunu community on Mandela’s farm ensuring the development of agriculture and commercial farming within More/….2

South Africa. The funds received will determine how many farmers are trained, the amount of product supplied and the number of bursaries that can be awarded to Scholars wanting to study Agriculture”.

Beneficiaries/….2

The second of the 2 Primary Beneficiaries is Liliesleaf Farm & Museum, once the nerve centre of the liberation movement and a place of refuge for its leaders, and is today one of South Africa’s foremost, award-winning heritage sites, where the journey to democracy in South Africa is honoured.    

Recognised as one of South Africa’s leading heritage sites, Liliesleaf opened to the public in June 2008 and has since attracted thousands of local and international visitors, eager to understand and engage with a pivotal period in South Africa’s liberation struggle. Sir Nicolas Wolpe, CEO of Liliesleaf Trust, states, “We are honoured to have not only been chosen as the venue for The CEO SleepOut™ but also as one of the Primary Beneficiaries of The SleepOut™ Movement enabling us to continue our work in preserving our heritage as an important symbolic presence of our country’s struggle and through our educational programmes we continue to inspire younger audiences to face the challenges of today”.

Related: How To Develop A Unique Brand Name In A Global Marketplace And Protect It

In addition to the Primary Beneficiaries The SleepOut™ Movement benefits a number of Secondary as well as Satellite Beneficiaries, with the funds raised through the 2 auctions taking place at Liliesleaf and on Robben Island benefitting the Prison-to-College Pipeline SA developed through a partnership between Stellenbosch University and the South African Department of Correctional Services & Western Cape Community Organisations aimed at integrating them back into their communities.

#RiseToTheChallenge now by visiting The SleepOut™ Movement – https://theceosleepoutza.co.za

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