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Thoughts and comments

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

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 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 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

A better year

A Good year 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

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

Tenders – timewaster or business generator?

2014_SeptemberThis 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.

Before you even get to tender stage you may have to register as a potential supplier. Government departments, municipalities and corporates frequently publish invitations for suppliers to list their companies in particular categories. If you have a highly competitive attribute or niche and are listed you may become one of a handful, or the only company invited to bid when the company needs your speciality. Continue reading

Customer information

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

 

A seriously valuable marketing tool – and it is free

 

 

Good customer information held in a structured system will tell you whether customers are growing with you or reducing purchases. It will have a record of every meeting, sales order, complaint, compliment, reference given, products purchased, payment history, budget cycle, nature of their business, basic credit information and key contacts. All of these are stored somewhere in your company records anyway, but are they accessible in an effective customer information system?

If you have a good system you can research target markets, make individualised tempting offers to customers, cross sell products and plan campaigns in target market niches with a high likelihood of success. What a great marketing tool, and its free.

Using the information

One way of using this information would be to list of all customers in a particular line of business, and list which products all or most of them are buying. Now you could do a survey among them to find out how they are using the products, their degree of satisfaction with those products, and any needs which are not being fully satisfied by the products. With this information you can: 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

Failing to deal with failure

pic courtesy of imageafter.com

This article was first published in the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine as an opinion piece.

Eighty percent of all start up small businesses will fail within two years, right? Or is it 94% within a year? Franchised businesses are safer, are they not? But by how much seems to be a closely held secret.

Into this catalogue of failure and uncertainty a large infrastructure of very smart people and institutions devote huge amounts of money, thought, assistance and support to educate and support entrepreneurs to open up new businesses and grow existing ones. Banks vie for attention, great publications have large circulations, business coaching is one of the fast growing sectors. Against these supposed market results I have to ask: ‘why’?

One reason is that we individually experience much higher success rates than those quoted so universally. I have yet to find anyone associated with the SME sector whose clients’ exhibit the level of failure quoted. It seems that the failure rate only happens to the other guys.

Another reason is confusion about what constitutes a business failure. We identify the surviving businesses, not the failed ones. If only 6% of businesses survive and employ staff then what happened to the other 94%. Did they fail? Did the entrepreneurs die, emigrate, remain sole traders or close their companies when they accepted a job offer? Did they merge with another company or relocate offshore? We don’t know. Continue reading

A test of customer relations

This article was first published as a Sanlam Cobalt Business Tips article. Sanlam great resources for entrepreneurs – I suggest you subscribe.

Take this light-hearted, but important test to see how your business is doing in providing great customer care.

 

 

  1. Do you have a written customer relations statement in any form – pledge, values, mission statement, incentive scheme, policy document or any other format?
    1. If yes, progress to question 2.
    2. If not, write down your understanding of the values and actions that your organisation believes in, or should believe in, then progress to question 2.
    3. Approach five random staff members or managers and ask them to tell you what is on the written document or in your notes. They do not need to be word perfect.
      1. If all of them get all or most of it right – full marks.
      2. If more than two of them get most of it right – half marks.
      3. If two or less of them get less than half of it right – fail.  You may have failed the grade. Go back  and start instilling a common culture of customer service in your organisation. Continue reading

The Insulting Gatekeeper

Why would you try to chase customers away?

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

The Brand New Ending

pic courtesy of freeimages.co.uk

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

ABS for business safely

abs3In 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