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Channel choices

 

 

This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in June 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

Which channel will achieve the best returns for your business?

 

 

You face many choices of how best to get your products and services sold. The most common channels include a field or counter direct sales force, various models of reseller from freelance agents to sub distributors with their own resellers. E-Commerce is becoming a significant channel and self-service in stores has been around for years. Inbound and outbound telesales offers very wide reach; exhibition and catalogue sales work in many sectors like spare parts and curios. Then there are many mixed models; telemarketing followed up by salespeople is one example. For some the best or only channel may be defined by the product. High end cars need a network of showrooms and salespeople so branches or resellers are required, but music is distributed primarily over the internet. For most entrepreneurs making the right choice is difficult and may come with some risk; many companies stay with traditional methods even if that is not the best model for them.

Generally there is a trade-off between cost and control so if you want tight control be prepared to pay for it. Continue reading

How important is your brand?

 

 

This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in May 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

What does brand really mean to SMEs?

 

 

 

Brands and branding have become the focus of much marketing attention and some hype. Hands up all who recognise all or most of these brands: PrivateProperty™; Sorbet™; Rocking the Daisies™; Turrito Networks™; GetSmarter™; The Creative Counsel™; MiX Telematics™ and Paycorp™? These are all highly successful fast growing businesses which have featured as success stories in Entrepreneur in the past twelve months. Their chosen markets must have valued their brand for them to have achieved such remarkable successes, and yet they are far from household names. So just how important is your brand to your entrepreneurial business? Who should be familiar with it? What values should it portray?

Back to basics

A brand derives from the brand mark burned on livestock to mark ownership. Technically it is a trademark for a company or product, but in the modern sense it is the value which consumers place on the advantages or qualities of the person, company or product. There are many definitions of brand and branding and this adds to the confusion about what to do about branding your business and products. This is a good one: “Brand is the image people have of your company or product. It’s who people think you are.” Anne Handley with CC Chapman. Continue reading

Good mentors worth their weight in gold

This article was published in a Business Partners newsletter of 24 November 2015, and appears here as a guest post by Christo Botes, then Executive Director of Business Partners Ltd. Business Partners Ltd is an African risk based Finance house and Venture capitalist focused on SME’s. The company has a mentors arm staffed by experienced specialists, and co-manages the South African SME toolkit.

 

There is no shortage of business advice in the world. It comes in the form of consultants, coaches, advisors, professors, management gurus and self-help celebrities. Each has its place, but for Christo Botes, executive director of Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), there is a special breed of business adviser who are worth their weight in gold: the business mentor.

 

For Botes, the distinction between a business mentor and other forms of business advisers is subtle, because a mentor can play any number of roles, sometimes that of strategic adviser, technical expert or business consultant, and sometimes all of them at once. But the key characteristics of a mentor has to do with their experience, attitude and approach. They practice the science and the art of business, not merely the science, says Botes.

An ordinary business consultant usually has a clinical approach, coming into a business to solve a specific problem and impart formal, defined pieces of knowledge or procedural know-how. A mentor can do this, but also strives to impart wisdom based not on textbook learning but on his or her experience.

The ordinary consultant keeps within his scope of work, and his interest stretches as far as the settlement of his invoice. A mentor can also work with a defined plan and for a fee, but gains his satisfaction from seeing his client succeed as a result of his work. Even if he is brought in to implement a technical process in a business, he does so with passion, and with a broader view to empowering the entrepreneur and the business.

A consultant can be a fresh-faced graduate with an MBA. A mentor can also have an MBA, but can only be someone with experience, or “scars and medals” earned in the real business world, says Botes. Continue reading

Plan for a better year ahead

This year has been a bad year for many companies – here is how to make sure 2017 is better

 

 

The past 12 months have not been a great time for many businesses. It started with the economy struggling to recover from the effects of the double change in finance ministers, was threatened by potential downgrades to sub investment grade by the rating agencies and characterised by shocks like Brexit, the Trump victory in America, local government elections, the #feesmustfall movement and the State Capture report. The serious drought saw food prices rocket and water restrictions added to the difficulty of doing business. All these issues make buyers nervous, and nervous buyers will delay all but essential purchases.

On top of all this the South African national pastime of sharing bad news brought a mood of pessimism and resignation. We know that water restrictions and high food prices will continue well into 2017 and the ruling party will have an elective conference which could be abrasive in the coming year. What, you may ask will make this year any better than the previous one? One of the answer to that question is you. There are many things you can do to shield your business from negative external events, and to seek the opportunities that any adverse event brings. Continue reading

Strategic competitive positioning

 

 

This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in April 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

Attack, defend, innovate or do nothing

 

 

We know that 2016 will continue to be a difficult year. Entrepreneurs I speak to believe competitive pressures are increasing as businesses chase shrinking markets. Price cutting is common as competitors do anything they can to get a slice of the limited business available. Some entrepreneurs may respond to this situation by assuming there will be less income and cutting costs to remain at least marginally profitable. Others will look for new markets or slash prices, and some will simply hope things do not become catastrophic. The problem with all these plans is that almost all competitors will to do similar things, so competitive pressures will be unchanged.

This is a good time to think strategically about positioning your business to get through bad times while increasing your competitive advantage. I suggest you take a deliberate competitive position and I have listed three possible strategies for your consideration, and a fourth which you could fall into if you do nothing. Continue reading

Managing hidden expenses

This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in March 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

The costs you don’t get invoices for

 

A potential customer walks away without buying after a bad experience with one of your employees. Your deliveryman cannot find the address so he returns with the customer’s order. Inventory at the back of the storeroom lies unused and unsaleable. A manufactured item fails a quality check and has to be remade. Clerks spend large parts of the day reconstructing lost information. These and many other failures cost your company a large amount of money, and yet the cost is almost invisible. These are the intangible costs for which you do not get invoices. They are typically a substantial part of the total costs of running a business.

Intangible costs include overstaffing, overtime, overstocking, excessive transport costs, scrapped material, excessive rent and loss of profit from lost customers and lost sales which should have been made. Few raise alarms or are subject to intensive cost cutting drives, simply because unlike direct costs nothing highlights their existence. To illustrate this point image a scene where every lost sale generated an invoice for the loss of profit. There would be a predictable response to improve competitiveness and service, but the lack of visibility of lost sales makes this response unlikely. The loss of profit is as real as the cost of wasted stationery, but seldom gets as much attention. Continue reading

Are you driving your business or is it driving you?

This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in February 2016 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

 

Why so many strategies fail to deliver and what can be done about it

 

 

It is almost a caricature. The executives go away on a strategy planning weekend. They have a successful think tank and come back fired up with great strategies and enormous enthusiasm. Then the day-to-day tasks demand attention and three months later nothing has changed. The idea may still be discussed in management meetings but this is becoming embarrassing. Why did it all go wrong?

It is a lot easier to think about how to grasp opportunities and solve problems than it is to implement the plans. A central problem of implementing new strategy is that it usually relies on people who already have busy jobs with little time or energy to execute additional demanding tasks. The planning session seldom takes this factor into account so strategy implementation remains project-based and dependant on spare time availability within the busy management team. Nothing changes and the company drifts on as it always has.

Entrepreneur style

The style of many entrepreneurs may also be the root cause behind failure to implement strategy. The phrase ‘working in your business instead of on your business’ is almost universal. Entrepreneurs naturally fix problems, manage people on a daily basis, sell, manage the finances, pacify irate customers and liaise with suppliers because they have always done so, and are now very good at these tasks. They work long hours doing things that others would be less effective at doing. Working in the business becomes a comfort zone, and the area they gravitate to when the business faces problems. Continue reading

Taking stock of your performance

 

This article was first published in the Sanlam Business Tips for Business Owners newsletter of December 2015, an excellent resource for entrepreneurs distributed free by a wonderful company. Entrepreneurs would do well to subscribe to this newsletter.

 

Comparing actual performance against planned results pays dividends

 

At year end many companies take stock of all inventory items. Taking stock of how your company performed against your plan is even more important. Pull out the business plan you completed earlier and make a comparison between what was planned and what actually happened. Of course if you never did a business plan cannot do this, and you should take note of Dave Ramsay’s wise words “A goal without a plan is just a dream”. Stop dreaming, plan and implement

The easiest way to do this is to develop a spreadsheet or table with the targets from the plan listed. Be as comprehensive as you can be. Obvious items are sales, profitability and cash flow forecasts, customer and staff retention, staff and management development, customer service levels, planned marketing campaigns, planned product development / improvement and competition monitoring and reaction. If those were not in your plan take this as a good reminder about what should be included when you do your plan for the following year. Now you should enter the actual results and show variances.

When you compare actuals to plan be brutally honest. If your plan had a non measureable goal like “give great customer service” assess honestly how well or badly you did, ask a few customers, and not only the friendly ones. Continue reading

Customer base or new business?


This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in November 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

 

How should you deploy limited resources for best returns?

 

 

Entrepreneurs know that they do not have unlimited sales and marketing resources. You face the question of how to get the maximum output from what you have. Should your energies be directed at more sales to customers, or more customers? Is it wise to split your resources between these?

A partial answer can be found in the nature of the business. If you sell things that customers buy very seldom like flooring or wedding facilities, your effort should go towards positioning your brand as one to consider and delivering beyond expectations to grow word-of-mouth and referral business. Similarly if your product set is applicable only to a small total market and you are the major supplier you want to ensure that all customers use as much as possible of your product range.

In cases where you offer highly differentiated products or have a unique market focus your priority should be new business before imitators become a problem. Where you have a ‘me too’ product set, very similar to that of your competitors your first priority should be to ensure loyalty of your customers and differentiate by excellent service.

Some new business is essential. Customer attrition will come through closures, relocation and competitive attack. Costs will increase and without new business you will have to cover this increase with price hikes, which make you less competitive. Continue reading

The power of focus

 

This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in October 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

 

Concentrate your resources on the target to improve performance

 

 

It seems logical to spread your net as wide as possible, to develop all available sales opportunities and markets if you want to grow. This makes sense if you are the dominant player in the market with an abundance of resources, one who can afford to waste resources on loss making sales simply to deny them to competitors. For everyone else it is a bad idea. Military strategist von Clausewitz wrote “Where absolute superiority is not obtainable, you must produce a relative one at the decisive point by making skilful use of what you have”, echoing the much earlier Sun Tzu maxim of concentrating your forces where the enemy is weak.

This military strategy applies equally to business. If you concentrate your resources and focus on a particular target, you gain many advantages: Sales costs reduce, sales become easier through customer referrals. Salespeople become expert in the area and competitors recognise your expertise and go elsewhere, so your strike rate increases. Customer support and administration costs fall and service levels increase. Your company becomes the go to company in that market.

Alternative choices

By contrast trying to hit everything that moves is costly; implementation and procurement complexity increases, as does the risk of cancelled sales. Your people become frustrated because they continually need to learn new industries and seldom re-use their expertise. Poor customer service is frequently an outcome and you lose the power of relevant reference customers. Continue reading

Tenders – timewaster or business generator?

2015-september

 

 

This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in September 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

 

Should you tender or stay away? Some basic rules

 

 

Tenders are used by all levels of government and many companies to buy goods and services and issue contracts. The total value of tender business is enormous, so an immediate reaction is to get involved. There is a downside as many small businesses and start-ups have experienced. It is entirely possible to submit many, many tenders without success. The direct cost of preparing a tender is high, but the opportunity cost of conventional sales you could have made instead is higher.

Me too

I call these ‘me too’ tender submissions, where you have nothing special to offer, and the company never heard of you. Among the bidders will be existing suppliers, those having specialist skills in the area and those bidding the lowest price because they can. Your chances of success are almost zero. Instead of wasting your time, develop a specific niche expertise or technology then tell potential buyers about it. Your chances of winning subsequent tenders increases dramatically. Continue reading

Your sales machine

2015-august

 

This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in August 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

 

Turn your whole company into an enthusiastic unit that aids and promotes your sales

 

 

 

It is in the interests of any employee to do anything they can to ensure the business makes sales, or at least not put sales at risk. Aside from loyalty to their employer, a healthy and growing business means everyone is better off and has improved prospects for promotion. Strangely there are employees, and some managers too, who damage the company through carelessness, incompetence or deliberate obstruction. They are hurting themselves as much as their employer.

Contrast that situation with companies where everyone is customer centric, and frequently attract praise from customers they have been in contact with. There are typically no unresolved complaints on consumer forums, and every employee seems to know why customers should buy.

Review yourself

To build a company like them, some introspection may be a good idea. Do you really deliver goods and services that meet customer expectations, or have customers had to lower their expectations to your standards? Think of the grudge purchases you make, or the times you have been distressed but did not change supplier after a bad experience. You cannot expect your employees to be champions if your company supplies shoddy products, uses untrained technicians and seldom delivers on its promises. Fix the real problems and you will be pleasantly surprised by the change in your staff. Continue reading

When you fight with customers

2015 July

 

This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in July 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

 

Sensible outcomes from disputes

 

 

“The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 as a way of differentiating Selfridges Department Store from competitors. It was revolutionary at the time, when misrepresentation by retailers was common and “caveat emptor’ (let the buyer beware) was the usual response to customer complaints.

Customer disputes happen in any business. Unresolved disputes may result in loss of customers or groups of customers, refusal to pay, widespread and often biased bad publicity, loss of repute, legal action, and even damage to property and public protest. Minor disputes can quickly escalate into anger, recriminations, threats and violence. Staff complaints about abusive and unreasonable customers is another source of dispute.

Where does it start?

Customer perceptions of broken promises or products not living up to expectations are at the heart of many disputes. Rude, uncaring or incompetent service from employees is another frequent cause. You may initiate a dispute relating to slow or non-payment, unreasonable or bullying customers or continual changes to requirements but unwillingness to pay for changes.

Arguments will escalate quickly if either party feels they are not being listened to by the other. A simple request can grow to a blazing row when either party ignores the other or scorns their view. Many serious disputes could have been resolved easily if they were attended to sensibly, courteously and early. Continue reading

The unique product or service

2015 June cover

This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in June 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

Does unique mean it will make millions for you?

 

 

 

You have created an innovation; congratulations. It may be a unique product, a brand new service, a new way of distributing things, a unique business model or a combination of these – but will it fly? Hopefully it will be a success and reward you, but just because it is unique is no guarantee of commercial success. The great innovations are generally those where potential customers immediately see the value, and perceive the value to be higher than the cost. Think of prepaid airtime which opened cell phone use to those who could not afford a contract.

Innovations which struggle to get off the ground are often those where the entrepreneur is passionate about it and believes potential customers should share his or her passion. This is a good way to learn that even great and creative products must be sold. Many wonderful innovations have never been launched or failed when they were introduced.

Preparing to launch

Ask yourself: Is this innovation is in response to a real market need, does the market recognise this need or are they not aware of it yet. If you are in the second category be prepared to spend a lot of time and money convincing people they really have this need.

There are two key requirements for a successful launch of a unique product; reasonable certainty that customers will buy at the proposed price and sufficient money to develop and market the innovation. Please do not ignore the marketing costs. Commercial failure of many innovations stemmed from entrepreneurs who spent all their money on perfecting the product and had nothing left to tell the market about it. Marketing innovations is expensive; the market must be convinced that the innovation works, is cost effective and gives advantages over old ways of doing things. Do not underestimate marketing costs. Continue reading

The one giant deal

2015 April cover

 

This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in April 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

 

Opportunities and risks of getting the biggest deal ever

 

 

What do you do if you get the opportunity of a huge sale, one bigger than anything you have done so far, maybe bigger than your entire business? This is a potential game changer, the opportunity to grow spectacularly. At the same time it is scary. Will you be able to continue to supply regular customers? How will you finance this deal, what will happen if you do not get paid? Can you deliver? The opportunity opens up dreams; all the wished for things you will be able to afford for the business and your family, security for you and your workers…

Best and worst

The best things that can happen are really good. If you make reasonable margins on the huge turnover increase the extra cash can be used to increase competitiveness with additional resources, creative marketing, better buying terms and the best information systems. Once you have executed a large deal successfully, you attract other large deals. Big organisations like to deal with suppliers who other big organisations use, so your business may be at the start of an incredible growth curve.

The worst things that could happen are very bad indeed. Many suppliers have gone insolvent because large customers persisted with unreasonable demands or did not pay. You may not be able to deliver to specification or on time and have penalty or cancellation clauses invoked. If you have personal guarantees to any supplier your lifestyle can be at risk too. Continue reading

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