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
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.
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
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, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in November 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission
November and December offer many opportunities for alert entrepreneurs
You will all have experienced it – the dreaded November slowdown, with many anticipating the year-end holidays before South Africa shuts down sometime in December. Entrepreneurs complain that it is impossible to sell at this time of the year. Many can’t wait for the start of the holidays.
How much are you contributing to this business slowdown? Are you demotivated by decisions being deferred to next year? Have you gone into pre-holiday slowdown mode, and repeated that this is an impossible time of year for marketing or sales? If you have then you are part of the problem, and this is a self-inflicted limitation on doing business.
Can you really afford to have one quarter of the year, from the beginning on November to the end of January as a time of minimal sales? Is it really true that nobody buys at this time of the year? The truth is there is an enormous volume of business available at this time, but it will not come to you if you ignore the opportunity.
There is an old saying that “everything comes to him (or her) who hustles while they wait”. Many successful entrepreneurs have had great successes during the slowdown by catching competitors napping in preparation for the holiday, or being the only bidder for profitable business. Tenders are published now to limit the number of bidders – really awake entrepreneurs take advantage. To get a slice of the millions spent in the next couple of months you must be alert, work hard and look for opportunities. You should also plan and execute an assertive sales campaign. 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 July 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission
Are you paying enough attention to this profit generator?
The difference between turnover and cost of sales is the starting point of profitability. Entrepreneurs drive their sales aggressively and manage operational costs tightly, but seldom pay as much attention to the crucial issue of margin. This is missing an opportunity to increase profit substantially with a little additional work.
Margin (or gross profit) is the difference between turnover and cost of sales, and it often comes from a simple percentage mark-up on all cost prices. This is a lazy way of setting the amount of gross profit your business will secure, and ultimately the net profit. You can do a lot better than that.
There are at least four opportunities to increase the total gross profit: More sales, higher prices, lower cost of sales and changing the product mix to increase the percentage of high margin products or services sold. Naturally this last one only works if you do not have a one-margin-fits-all lazy margin strategy. A tip to sell more is to increase the average number of items sold per order. Even a tiny percentage increase can make a significant difference to total margin. Look at the example of burger franchises which invite you to add a slice of cheese to the burger. If just 10% of all customers buy that very high margin slice of cheese they make significant extra profit with minimal effort, and it is so simple. What can you do to increase the items per order? Extended warranties, service contracts and training all offer opportunities. Continue reading
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 for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in April 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.
Start ups in small towns need excellent marketing strategies
This entrepreneur plans to start an event business that will offer wedding and party planning and a catering service offering African gourmet meals with a twist. He requests advice on marketing and penetrating the limited market in his small town. As an unknown young black entrepreneur he has concerns about succeeding in marketing to a predominantly white and older community.
The first step is market and competition evaluation, to determine if there is enough market, and whether his business could win against established competitors. If either of these are negative then the entrepreneur needs to answer totally different questions.
Assuming this has been done and the market is available, then there is a mix of good and scary news. The good is that he is thinking of how to be different. The idea of gourmet African meals is exactly the sort of unique selling proposition that great businesses are made of. The scary part is that any market is really hard to penetrate. What is usually in the target’s mind on first approach is something like:
Picture a large, rude, aggressive and menacing doorman, who did his best to intimidate customers into turning away from your business and upset those who persevered. Few businesses would want him harassing and insulting their customers and stopping them from buying, and yet so many do put rude, insulting and harassing barriers between themselves and their customers, making it difficult and demeaning for customers to approach them.
Even your business may have allowed some of these horrors to creep in.
The most common insult is the vanishing telephone message. The switchboard operator, if there is still such a person in the business, no longer takes messages nor does she know when people are in, on leave or in meetings. The customer needing information or wanting to complain is put through to an extension that (tick one or more) rings endlessly; goes to voicemail with the message is never returned; tells the customer to call on a cell number which repeats the process; or is diverted to another extension which also repeats the process. All levels of government and many very large businesses are even worse than this. If you haven’t done so recently, listen in as a friend tries to reach your sales or production manager, query a delivery or find someone who can explain a product feature. Then fix the problem. Customers who want to talk to your business are actually good news, not the nuisances some staff members and managers seem to think they are. Continue reading
Working smarter to plan increased turnover without needing new business
Most businesses would like to increase their turnover, but often struggle to do so. One reason is businesses simply set a growth target with no focus on where that growth should come from, or why people would buy more from the company. Increasing turnover means more sales to existing customers, more new customers or higher prices, and for now I will focus on growing existing customers.
Selling more by being a great supplier
Before you even start to think about selling more to customers you have to examine if you really understand your customer’s goals, plans, needs and likes, and if the communication channels are open at the right levels. If you are dealing only with a junior buyer who gripes continually about your quality, prices and service don’t expect any of the stuff below to work. Start again and build a relationship of understanding their culture, needs and systems. Then deliver what meets those requirements. Get the communication channels working effectively at the right levels and address their concerns promptly. Then you can think about growing your business with them.
Things to do: (The Good)
In downtown Johannesburg a fast food takeaway used to bake large pizzas, and sell them by the slice. Each time I bought a slice I noticed that the attendant chose the biggest available slice for me. As you can imagine, that made me feel really good. When a new pie was delivered for the oven the same rule applied – first sell the biggest slice. So the takeaway gained great goodwill and encouraged customers to come back. Maybe they sold 50 or 60 slices of pizza a day, that meant 50 or 60 customers feeling special, feeling valued. What was the cost of this? Nothing. That’s right, not a cent.
What can you do to make your customer feel special and valued? Continue reading
If you, as entrepreneurs often do, are musing about how you can improve your business right now by doing something different and creative you might want to think about an interesting saying that I came across a while ago.
“No one can go back and make a brand new start. Anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending”. I have never managed to find the author (and if you know please tell me) but I salute the thinking.
If you wanted to apply this thought to your business you could imagine you were about to launch your business tomorrow or next week and re-experience the terror and excitement of a new venture.
If you were truly able to put yourself in this mode you would walk on water to satisfy a potential customer requirement, you would speculate about what they were thinking endlessly and try to anticipate their needs. Continue reading
In motoring terms ABS is the technology that stops wheels from locking under hard braking, which means that they do not lose grip and the car will not simply slide into an obstruction. The device has saved many lives and countless costs of repairs. It is a vital safety factor and no modern car should be without ABS.
In entrepreneurial business there is another, equally vital ABS:
Always Be Selling
As businesses develop the entrepreneur can slide into bad habits, where he sees more of his suppliers than his customers, where he spends more time on the accounts and records than on making his products more desirable to his markets. Although it is not as physically dangerous as being in a car sliding helplessly towards a stationary truck, it can be even more expensive in lost business opportunities or customer dissatisfaction. Continue reading
There was an inspiring story in the “It’s My Business” entrepreneurial supplement to the Sunday Times of 2nd May 2010. It described the business journey of Michael Rademeyer an entrepreneur in the clothing industry. The full article can be viewed online at the Times Live website. I have quoted from the article and acknowledge the fine work of It’s My Business and journalist Hendri Pelser on bring this incredible story to the public.
Back in 2006 the company he worked for closed down, as have hundreds in this troubled industry in the last decade. He joined another company who ‘had an unorthodox view on salaries – he didn’t get paid’. So, in an industry which has been battered by imports coming in at prices that local manufacturers can’t match, he did the intelligent thing and opened a clothing manufacturing company making jackets. Continue reading
The recession is technically over, with much debate among economists about a U, V or W shaped return to good times. The phrase ‘green shoots of recovery’ became an accepted part of business conversation six months ago, but many still feel the pain of the effect of the recession.
Should the entrepreneur now assume that the bad times are now just a fading unpleasant memory and that it is good strategy to go back to business as usual? Or do those ‘green shoots’ disguise sharp spikes waiting for an unwary entrepreneur to tread on them? Continue reading