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Entrepreneurs

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

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

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

The right workload

2015 MarchThis 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

You have a business plan – what now?

climbing small

 

You have spent time putting together a great business plan, don’t waste it

 

It takes time thought and money to put together a credible business plan. You may have needed one to get finance, or to get suppliers to support you, or because you believe that planning your business is the right way to go, which is the best reason. Now the plan is complete, it has goals, targets and projections, mission and vision, marketing promotions, organograms, staff recruitment and training plans, financial projections and all the other characteristics of a great business plan – so what now?

Sadly in even the best intentioned businesses the day to day activities of running the business, and as all that great work fades from memory the plan document remains in a file, never to be looked at aside from out of nostalgia. If this is done deliberately it can be a good strategy, especially if you follow Eisenhower’s motto that “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” In this strategy the business recognises that merely developing a plan drives the business to more focused and effective actions, but the entrepreneur wants freedom to react to situations on the ground, rather than stringently following the plan. If this is so in your business I have no problem at all.

However if your business is like the majority, the great ideas and lofty goals set down in the plan will slowly be submerged in the sea of day to day tactical management, and very few of the goals of the plan will be met. If this is you, or if you are in a planning cycle and fear this very widespread problem then read on… Continue reading

Cashing in

cashing_in_my_chips-300x200This article was written by Ed Hatton and first published by Entrepreneur Magazine as a part of the Selling your Business feature in August 2014 see copyright statement at the end of this article

 

When is the right time to start thinking about selling your business?

 

The best time to think about selling your business is when you first draft the business plan. This sounds bizarre; entrepreneurs planning a new business are filled with visions of growing the businesses, employing more and more people, branching out. However a key part of business planning should be to record your objective in starting or buying the business. This could be the need to be your own boss, wealth accumulation, social good, desire for power or others. Many entrepreneurs open or buy business with the sole intent of improving its value so that it can be sold at a large profit. Contrast this with others who build businesses in fields that interest them, and the business becomes the sole passion of the entrepreneur. If this business is sold the entrepreneur will have lost their primary interest in life. Restraint of trade is usually applicable to business sales, so the entrepreneur will not be able to start again in the same field.

What happens after?

What happens after the sale? Will you retire, go into a different field, work for charity or mentor young entrepreneurs? Or will you become bored, restless and depressed, with nothing to fill your empty days? You will probably have been working intensely, travelling a lot, taking tough decisions, overcoming difficult problems and suddenly all that goes away. If you have nothing to replace that lifestyle you will need to adjust. Continue reading

SME sales force

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

 

Managing a small sales force is challenging

 

 

In start-up small businesses the entrepreneur will usually make all the sales. As the business grows a sales team is often recruited. The entrepreneur may retain important customers and may keep responsibility for some product lines.

Some arrangements like this work very well, but if your sales force is underperforming and you still have to bring in the bulk of the income you need to take action. A typical result of this situation is a deteriorating relationship between demotivated salespeople and the frustrated entrepreneur. Do not automatically blame the toxic situation exclusively on the salespeople – your own actions and omissions may be causing the problem.

The right people

Finding the right salespeople is a challenge; you need strong enthusiastic people who see sales as a desirable career, not just a place to earn some money until they get a ‘real job’. Your company probably does not yet have well-known brands or comprehensive sales support, so recruit those who can work in this environment. Ask the right questions. They must enjoy learning on their own, be self-reliant and work hard with little supervision. They must also fit the culture of your company.

You may unconsciously assume that new salespeople share your product knowledge, work ethic, and feelings of being responsible for the business succeeding. You will need to build these characteristics with training, motivation, communication, mentoring and rewards. The investment of even large amounts of money and time in these aspects pays dividends. Continue reading

The dreaded top of the “S” curve

2014_March 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

Moving from the core business

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

 

Think positively to diversify your small business

 

 

 

Entrepreneurs are creative by nature. That is a core value and advantage. So it is not unusual for an entrepreneur to think of new business ideas that could be additions or diversifications for the existing business. Some of these ides will differ radically from their core business. Should they be implemented? If they should, how should they be put into practice? What are the things to look out for when you move away from your core business?

Entrepreneurial businesses thrive and grow by innovation; by adding new products, by fresh approaches to old problems and by creative development of new markets. This is one of the attributes that allows them to compete with large corporates. Diversifying is generally a great way to grow the business. Sadly it can also be a way of reducing existing business to shells. The difference is how the entrepreneur manages the diversification.

New ideas can arise out of boredom. Many entrepreneurs are enthralled by the activity and challenge of starting something new but are not happy with routine management. I call them the ‘firestarters’. The disadvantage of firestarters is that they get bored doing all the hard and repetitive work of growing a business after it has developed a toehold in the market. Their business can fail as the entrepreneur neglects it or strips it of resources to build a business based on the new idea. If you recognise yourself in this category then either become a serial entrepreneur, building and selling businesses as they mature, or find a partner or series of partners you can hand the core concept to when your mind starts to wander. This is a great way to build a huge business empire or personal fortune.

 

Things to watch for

Often a new idea looks attractive only because the core business is not succeeding. The entrepreneur will be thinking of ways to make the business survive and prosper. Adding synergistic opportunities to a business which is not producing expected results can be a great way to inject life and success into that business. Doing something radically different to cover up the failure of the current business to deliver on expectations can kill it. If the core business is not performing then either fix the business or close it, and create a new business with the new idea. Continue reading

Quality checks for your business plan

image_thumb2This 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:

  • Can YOU execute? Failure to convince financiers of this aspect is probably the number one reason for rejection. More critically, it is probably the number one reason for early start up failure. Points to check: Do you have enough knowledge to run the business? The entrepreneur of a business which markets services needs to understand marketing as well as the service. Do you have any experience in this field? Hobbies are often a help in this regard, for instance enthusiastic cooks setting up catering companies. Do you have the time to execute the planned actions, and will your family support that? Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted, there will be many late nights and early mornings. Can you take risk? If you are uncomfortable with being daring at times you should plan for safer businesses. Can you lead? You will need to tell people what to do and learn to make uncomfortable, even agonising decisions.

Continue reading

Which business should I open?

13 August CoverThis article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in August 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

 

What is the right type of a new business for young people?

 

 

A young relative asked me: “If you were 23 what sort of business would you open?” I realised what an interesting question this is. Imagine being 23, with the experience to know what to consider and where the opportunities lie. Thanks for the great question entrepreneur-to-be Jean!

The first answer is that if you want to be business owner you should become one. Starting a business is nowhere near as difficult as people suggest. Even desperately poor and illiterate people open sustainable businesses all over the world without business advice, bank loans or advertising. It is more difficult to launch and develop a business that can grow out of the survival phase to provide employment and value or wealth to the entrepreneur, and if that is your dream choose a business that can grow, as opposed to lifestyle entrepreneur businesses like a photographer.

Be capable of running it

You should be capable of operating the business. At 23 you may lack business experience but business owners need to be able to handle finances, marketing, sales, HR and administration. Don’t choose a very complicated business or one in a highly regulated sector, like food or medical supplies. Choose an area you know or have a passion about. Continue reading

Getting the numbers right

13 June Cover

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 forecasting

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

What do they want to hear?

13 March coverThis article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in March 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

The subject must be important to potential buyers

 

 

 

 

 

Challenge
This entrepreneur was the victim of a horrific motor vehicle accident that left him brain damaged. He has beaten the odds and gained several tertiary qualifications. He asks how he can turn his inspiring story, as well as information about brain injuries into a career as a speaker.

Response
This entrepreneur is very passionate and knowledgeable about his subject and has researched the high prevalence and management of brain injuries. He believes everyone should be aware of this information. He also has an inspiring story to tell, of overcoming huge obstacles on his way to his qualifications. His problem is getting paid speaking assignments.
Many entrepreneurs have products and services in which they believe passionately, and think potential customers should share their enthusiasm, but consumers at every level have the choice of more products and services than they could ever buy. They select those which are important, which may not be the services the entrepreneur believes in so passionately. So they do not come asking for the entrepreneur’s services and that can leave the him bewildered and frustrated. Continue reading

Talents and weaknesses

13 Feb coverThis article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in February 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

 

Capitalising on strengths and overcoming problems are essential entrepreneurial abilities

 

 

Challenge

This entrepreneur asks if it is advisable to start a clothing business without the ability to sketch or draw designs. She has a good eye for trends and understands the clothing manufacturing process.

Response

This entrepreneur-to-be has identified her major strengths and weaknesses. She then asks for advice about a significant weakness. This is smart thinking. All too often would-be entrepreneurs simply dive into their dreams without evaluating their talents and skills and then become frustrated when they cannot get start up finance, or attract customers because they lack a vital skill or simply do not understand the complexities of the business they wish to enter.

In this case her strengths of having an eye for trends and understanding the manufacturing process are significant advantages  in a business where being the first with a trend is a huge competitive advantage. She worries about her inability to get her ideas on paper, and correctly so. If she cannot overcome this weakness then all the talent for spotting trends cannot be turned into saleable garments. Continue reading