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 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
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
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
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 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission
You have to tell potential customers what you offer – even with no money
It is almost a caricature. A new business is launched. The entrepreneur has used all the available funds to perfect products. There is no marketing and consequently no customers and all the technologically wonderful products remain unsold. The world does not beat a path to the door of the person who has the better mousetrap; it continues to buy whatever it has done in the past.
The message is clear – you have to tell people who could buy from you that you exist and why they should consider you. You can do this with little or no money for marketing promotions, but there are some rules.
The first one is to realise that with limited funds you needs to reach the people likely to buy from you as efficiently as possible; you cannot afford to market to people who will never be your customers. It is amazing that this simple piece of logic is so often ignored. Identify who your most likely customers are, and then to figure out the best way to get a marketing message to them with as little wastage as possible.
The right media
Another rule is that you have to use the right media. It does not make sense to advertise wedding dresses by flyers in business post boxes. Instead you must be on the internet – unless you can afford to be at bridal exhibitions or to advertise in specialist magazines. Find out which information sources are used by your target market and then use the most cost effective ones. A useful cost saver is to form an alliance with a non-competitive supplier to the target market. The allies agree to share exhibition or other marketing costs, but they also introduce each other to their customers.
Barter is an ancient and honourable way of saving cost – you print my brochure and I will plan your conference for example. Community service by you and your staff can attract the attention and goodwill of community minded businesses and individuals and it is free. 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 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
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
You have the idea, but what are the steps needed to turn the idea into a business
I meet and communicate with many people who have an idea that they think can be turned into a payable business but do not know where to start, and many such ideas never become enterprises, which means no new economic boost or jobs, and we need both to take the focus from large organisations and ever increasing government bureaucracies.
So here are a few steps to convert ideas to enterprises.
Who will buy it?
Without sales there is no business and yet too many start ups have only an optimistic guess at sales income. To reduce the risk of early failure the target market has to be clearly identified, it has to have the disposable income to buy the product or service and it has to be one that the new business can communicate with and sell to.
Break that sentence down into its components and you will see the need for a whole lot of research, thinking and planning. The advantage of doing this is it is easier and less expensive to communicate the values of a product to a tightly defined market and much easier to attract them to the ‘storefront’ – whether that is an actual store, an internet site or a salesperson. 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 August 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.
Turning an idea into a viable business is not as difficult as it seems
This entrepreneur has a business idea which he thinks will make a viable business, but is unsure of how to go about commercialising the idea. He asks how to execute this transition.
Many people have a business idea. Very few ideas actually turn into commercially viable businesses. This is sad when our country so desperately needs all the new businesses possible to address the terrible unemployment situation. A part of the reason for this failure is highlighted by this month’s challenge; many potential entrepreneurs do not know which steps must be taken to commercialise an idea.
The first step is the business model, including the source of income. This entrepreneur will provide a service to a tightly defined market, and make his money from fees. In other enterprises the income could be commission on sales, sponsorship of an activity, rentals, royalties or from advertising income. The source of products for resale and other necessary services must also be identified. 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:
A new entrepreneur faces a steep learning curve with no mentoring
An entrepreneur started a website to provide youth with a free service for employment and small business opportunities. The income comes from web publishing and affiliate programs. He has no IT background and has to learn operations, marketing, finance and everything at once. He also doesn’t have anyone to bounce new ideas off.
This entrepreneur, operating in a rural area, wanted to make a difference to young people and small businesses. The web site breaks even but he is frustrated at the slow growth and his own lack of knowledge. This is a near-universal problem with new businesses, the learning curve is both steep and multi-disciplined. Affordable advisors are hard to identify.
Learning and getting advice
Finding appropriate learning opportunities and information while running a new business is a challenge. There are many courses advertised and choosing the right one is crucial for entrepreneurs on tight budgets and with limited free time.
Start with the free information on the internet. Entrepreneur magazine’s website at www.entrepreurmag.co.za is a valuable resource, so is the SME Toolkit (www.southgafrica.smetoolkit.org) and many others. There are many great business blogs which starts ups can follow at no cost including my own at http://marketingstrategy.co.za. It takes time and patience to search for good information, but this is time very well spent.
Entrepreneurs should not be afraid to ask for advice, but only when they have done the basics. Many business people are happy to help but don’t expect them to come up with answers when the entrepreneur has been too lazy to investigate options. Start with a successful business nearby that is not in competition with yours and then ask the managers for assistance. This works well in the internet world, where free advice is a part of life. Coaches and mentors are available for a fee, but set the expectations and budget in advance. Continue reading
….the simple plan
That they should take who have the power
And they should keep who can – Wordsworth
Will you be the growing business taking more market share? A defender of your customer base? Or one of those that lose ground to better planned and organised competitors? Do you have a plan to guide your business? Does it work for you?
Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything”. The process of developing a good business plan will force you to think about your customers, competitors and the resources you need, and that thinking should drive your business in the future.
Assume you want to develop a plan for 2011 to defend your market share, or take new business. You may be tempted to download one of the excellent business planning templates and then concentrate on filling in the blocks. Some entrepreneurs, especially those starting out, will engage a cut-and-paste business plan developer. But there is a much better way: Simply follow Eisenhower’s advice and focus on the process of planning. Continue reading
If you are planning to open a new business you will need to think of many different things. Here are a few really key questions that you may not have thought about. If you cannot answer any one of these satisfactorily you may be taking unnecessary risks. With the horrifying failure rate of new start up businesses you would want to reduce risk as much as possible, so if any of these questions cannot be answered or leave you feeling uneasy, then my advice would be to attend to this urgently, even if it means delaying your launch.
In most businesses there is always a risk of a sudden and serious reversal. A big customer stops buying, a supplier kills a product range, there is a strike in your sector, a major competitor appears, or any one of many potential threats occurs. Turnover slows and profits fall below breakeven and turn to losses.
Usually the business owner now exhibits some degree of panic. Common responses include the owner (male or female, the male gender is used only for convenience in this article) punishing himself by taking out less money, adding to his worries and possibly getting into personal debt. Then he delays paying creditors as long as possible and as a reward may have raw material or inventory deliveries being suspended because his account is not up to date. Often he holds off paying his VAT and incurs penalties. He may institute some special offers for new customers to regain the lost turnover, but this will affect his margins and alienate his regular customers who are paying a higher price. Continue reading
It has become fashionable to discuss only business plans in the entrepreneurial environment. The marketing plan should be incorporated within the business plan, but many business plans provide only a cursory look at marketing. One reason is that many business plans are produced with the sole purpose of gaining finance for an enterprise, and so the focus is on financial projections, staff required and management experience. Once the finance has been secured the plan can be buried with all the other tiresome paperwork.
This is sad, because my belief is that most entrepreneurial failures and businesses in difficulty arise from one simple fact – they do not sell enough! And many times the reason that they do not sell enough is that their marketing and sales is unplanned, and poorly funded, the salespeople are insufficiently trained and the person responsible for marketing lacks either knowledge or clout or both.
As Dwight Eisenhower famously said “Plans are nothing, planning is everything”. The process of marketing planning will force research and debate and question assumptions. It will point to the need to set aside budget and train people. And it will link performance to actions.
Even with a carefully thought out marketing plan there is still a risk of the plan not having the desired effect. In my experience the failure of marketing plans comes from some or all of the following: Continue reading