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
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
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
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
This article was written by Ed Hatton for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in March 2015 and is posted here by their kind permission
Entrepreneurs work hard but should get the balance right
It is routine for entrepreneurs to work very hard for long hours. Hard work is a part of entrepreneurship, but how balanced is that workload? Do you handle customer complaints, check quality, answer e-mails, expedite deliveries, do progress chasing, and fix problems? These are all reactive. Your may also do some proactive work like designing the website, selling to customers, developing products and similar tasks. Even these may really be reactive – arising from the lack of a website, no trusted salespeople and customer gripes about product deficiencies. If this sounds like you, you are working in the business, not on it, and working at a low level as well.
You should be focused on beating competitors, innovation, customer retention, structuring finances, building the brand, managing budgets and forecasts, getting the right people in place and a host of other managerial tasks. These are working on the business not in it. At least some of your time must be devoted to strategy – have you got the right products? Are you in the right markets? Should you buy competitors or be bought? Is your buying strategy right? Your pricing? Does your structure support your strategy?
Life balance is equally important. Family, health, friendships, networking, learning, spirituality, hobbies, holidays and entertainment will often be sacrificed for long days working, but there is a cost. Continue reading
Last year was a bad year for many companies – here is how to make sure 2015 is better
A variant of this article was published as the Sanlam Business Tips for Business Owners January 2015 edition. This publication is a great resource for entrepreneurs, well worth subscribing.
Last year was one of the most difficult for businesses in recent times. The strike in the platinum mining sector started in January and was only settled in June. Losses to the mines and their workers were enormous, but the trickle-down effect of the mines not buying meant suppliers were badly affected. That in turn affected their supply chains, down to tax consultants of managers of third tier suppliers. Only a week after platinum strike settlement the metalworkers strike paralysed industry for a month. The post office did not deliver mail for months in some areas, new power stations again experienced construction delays, the radical EFF appeared on the stage and the e-toll saga developed in Gauteng.
On top of all this the South African national pastime of sharing bad news brought a mood of pessimism and resignation. Already in 2015 we have seen threatened strikes, load shedding xenophobic violence. 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
This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in October 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission
Sales to huge organisations can be wonderful, but there are risks
Making a breakthrough into a giant corporate or a part of government is like finding the pot of gold for many entrepreneurs. If you have secured a contract rather than a single sale the excitement is even greater; the long-term profit generated allows the business to fund growth and regulates the cash flow. Beware though, this kind of business comes with some risks, and entrepreneurs should be aware that such contracts have destroyed businesses, and cost entrepreneurs everything they owned.
Making the sale
Large organisations, from government departments to mines are required to buy from small businesses, especially black empowered ones. We expect them to seek out entrepreneurial companies as suppliers, but it does not work that way. Little businesses have to fight hard to become suppliers. Large organisations are driven by budgets and the key performance objectives (KPIs) of the business unit which needs the product or service, so they will buy the products that fit the specification they prepared to suit those needs. This may not be the best product offered to them. Giants are risk averse and bureaucratic.
To win their trust you need to be aware of their style and needs and prepare your company and products to meet those. Pitch your sale in a way that will help the end users to do their job better. If there is ever a case of selling to the customer needs then this is it – you want to stand out from competitors and show why your company should become the supplier. Once you make the sale you must execute flawlessly all the time, and be instantly available to them at all hours. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in March 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission
A threat or a real opportunity?
Successful start-ups normally begin slowly, then grow rapidly. Growth is not usually a straight line, but can be compared to an elongated “s” curve, with a slow start then strong growth until it levels off. Think about a flat topped mountain – the lower slopes are quite gentle then the sides steepen until the plateau on top, where the business becomes static with little or no growth. Arriving there can be a problem where the company depends on growth to pay the bills, and if nothing changes then like the mountain example the only way from there is down. How can you avoid this trap?
Many S curve books focus on large corporates, getting to the plateau when they reach market saturation, but the slowdown can occur in businesses with less than ten employees, and in as little as two years from start-up. This is often attributed to running out of the friends and family the business relied on as customers in the early stages, or running out of working capital.
Running out of time
In my experience a frequent reason for getting to the top of the S curve is the management style of you, the entrepreneur. You often run everything, and do it very well. You learned this when the company launched and you had to manage everything – from sales to logistics. As the business grew you got better at them than anyone else, so there was no sense in delegating to others. One day you run out of capacity to do more work and the business stalls, limited by your available time. Continue reading
This article was published as the Sanlam Business Market, Business Tips: December 2013 newsletter. The Sanlam Business Tips is an incredibly useful and free resource for entrepreneurs. If you have not yet subscribed you should.
Many business plans lead businesses into disastrous situations
We all know we should check our cars before travelling. Equally important is the need to check your business plan for faults and potential failures before making it the core of your business, or using it to ask for finance. Here is a 6 point check:
When to sell and when to walk away
You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away, And know when to run The Gambler, Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers was not referring to selling when he sang those famous words many years ago, but he could well have been. Whether you are an individual salesman, an entrepreneur building your business or an organisation intent on improving profits you should consider the words of the old gambler.
There are certainly sales that you should stick to, even though they do not close easily. There are others where you should realise that you have no realistic chance of success and yet others where the effort to close them is not worth the return you will get. There are definitely sales opportunities you should run from as fast as you can. As the old gambler advised in the song, the difficulty is in knowing which sales opportunity is which. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine, as the My Mentor column published in June 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission
Entrepreneur optimism in sales forecasting
Entrepreneurs are natural optimists; they have great belief in themselves and their products, they see even ordinary products as being irresistible to potential customers. There is nothing wrong with self-belief; without that we would see few new businesses being launched.
Optimism in sales forecasting is much more serious. There could be disastrous consequences if the venture fails to make unreasonable sales targets.
Before the entrepreneur even thinks about forecasting the sales volume he or she must define the target markets; groups of people or businesses most likely to become customers. These groups must see a good reason to buy from the new venture rather than their existing suppliers, and be able to learn about the goods and be motivated to buy. The entrepreneur must identify the processes to achieve these requirements. Please do not skip these steps. The belief that ‘everyone will want this product and my website will bring enquiries’ has produced many poorer and embittered ex-entrepreneurs. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in April 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission.
You have the expertise but where are the customers?
This entrepreneur had 26 years experience in the security industry when he started his own security company. For several years he has been unable to secure guarding contracts, and asks for help
Every start up entrepreneur believes that a sustainable and profitable enterprise can be built and this belief is reinforced by expertise in the product or service that the company will deliver. An expert in the chosen field has big advantages; he or she does not need to climb the product learning curve that affects so many start-up entrepreneurs. However as our questioner has discovered to his cost, expertise in the chosen field alone does not guarantee success.
A successful business must provide customers with services which they perceive to be more desirable and valuable than the services available from competitors. This perception is not just about the product or service; it covers the supplying company, people, styles, and brand association – the whole package on offer. The challenge for start up entrepreneurs is to create a business that provides the package which will attract customers away from alternatives – and then communicate the package to them. Continue reading
How to negotiate difficult market conditions
“It’s tough out there” a veteran entrepreneur said to me recently, “this is the worst I have seen in 30 years of trading in this market”. Many businesses are really feeling the pinch as the long lasting effects of the global economic downturn slash budgets and postpone new developments. The phrase about tough conditions is heard frequently.
In the local marketplace labour unrest which often turns violent, energy cost and availability concerns, high inflation, increasing red tape and low labour productivity add to the problem. During the good times competition increased with more companies being launched or expanded. This means a shrunken market is being contested by too many suppliers with high and increasing costs. Buyers become more demanding because they can – there is always someone who will shave the margins to the bone just to keep the factory ticking over and some staff employed.
Good entrepreneurs react to situations like this; they do not simply accept that times are tough and that their businesses will underperform. The business needs to win more of the scarce business, effectively denying this slice to competitors, and it needs to compensate for increased costs by increasing efficiencies. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in November 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.
The first actions can turn a dream into a business – or a nightmare
This entrepreneur has what he believes to be a viable idea for a new magazine. He asks what the very first step should be, in order to bring the idea to fruition.
Of the many things that have to be done to convert an idea into a start up business, which is the most important first step? I suggest there are two equally important considerations; ensuring real passion to launch and run a business, and testing for commercial viability of the venture.
Starting up and running a new business is not easy. It is extremely hard work, risky and unrewarding in the early stages. Start up entrepreneurs work long hours and are confronted with unexpected problems. They need to become instantly proficient in marketing, finance, HR, production, negotiation cash flow management and motivating staff. They risk family disruption, business failure and the loss of substantial amounts of money. Continue reading
This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in July 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.
How to turn an idea into a business without someone stealing and using it
This entrepreneur has a business idea, which he believes will be profitable. He is not sure who to talk to or how to go about starting up a business based on his idea. He asks if it is possible to secure a patent or other protection to prevent others from taking his idea.
This is a common situation for many would be entrepreneurs with a great business idea. To develop the idea service providers and funders must be approached and this brings a risk of someone using the idea.
Intellectual property protection through patents, designs or copyright may provide some of the answer, but are not always applicable. For instance a patent applies to something that can be represented by a drawing, model or prototype. It must be new and involve an inventive step. Patents do not apply to computer programs and the presentation of information. Copyright covers written or artistic works and images, but not the ideas underlying them. A legal action against a patent infringer is likely to cost hundreds of thousands of Rand, and could take years to complete. Continue reading