08 November 2012

The Busy Disease

Credit: Pinmarket

I've been incredibly bad in keeping this blog going in the last month or so -- I blame being blissfully busy.

When I left my job in June, it wasn't exactly planned and the months that followed were very much a case of taking a leap of faith and finding my wings on the way down. The good news is, I found the wings in plenty of time so as not to splatter saucily on life's pavement. 

I've been unbelievably lucky in the consulting and freelance work I've picked up for my company, Amanda Killick Media Management -- my latest project threatens to challenge my abilities like never before and consume my life until just before Christmas -- and I'm loving being my own boss

There are good days; there are bad days. I'm just very grateful that I have days and can use them to build my business. But, as the pic above cautions, it's vital to maintain a balance. And I'm working on that too. 

Will post again as soon as I can and, in the meantime, thanks for your ongoing support!

05 October 2012

Infographic: Success is like breathing

Eric Thomas

I've just recently discovered the brilliance if Eric Thomas -- his life story is inspiring, moving and the stuff you build a solid future of success with. Check out his home page or follow him on Twitter: @EricThomasbtc.

I hope that this weekend leaves you chilled to perfection, and to the awesome @DunnMorr, happy birthday!

03 October 2012

Ann Druce: Is your communications strategy clear & relevant?

Ann Druce, Octarine Communications
Ann Druce started KZN-based Octarine Communincations in April 2001 after the mid-size advertising agency where she was working underwent restructuring. She seized the opportunity to go on her own, and set up a home office with friends’ castoff furniture, a computer and a phone.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I started out in corporate marketing but, happily, working in organisations that encouraged entrepreneurial thinking. 

What were you doing before starting your business?
I had begun the process of cutting the apron-strings by moving from corporate to a mid-sized advertising agency. Then when things were tough and the agency restructured, it provided the impetus I needed to go on my own.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
I don’t think an elaborate document is essential, but a plan certainly is. However, before I’d even started thinking about writing a business strategy, my start-up plan was instigated by a client when I mentioned I might start an ad agency.  He committed to giving me his business if I started on my own, giving me the freedom to make the decision based on what I wanted to do, rather than a fear that it might be a while before I established a client base.

What was your big dream for this venture?
The good old-fashioned ideal of being a true business partner to my clients – learning their business and making a real strategic contribution: translating their marketing strategy into clear, relevant messages that reach their target markets.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
Not every entrepreneur is a born salesman. But we have to use what we have at our disposal – from working our existing networks and developing new ones, to the dreaded cold-calling. I recommend that new entrepreneurs join business groups, scan the employment section in the Sunday papers and see when new decision makers are being appointed, and call them up. And that they ask clients for referrals after every single sale, be it a product or a service.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
Sometimes what makes you unique isn’t unique at all. All margarine is cholesterol-free, but Flora made this their point of difference, while others were talking about taste. So decide what your niche is and make your unique claim. Evaluating your target market and what they might need is a good place to start. What are their key stressors? Can you address that? What are the frustrations that people think they have to live with? Can you change that? Is it your hours of service? Is it a standard call-out fee? Is it a guarantee that is credible?

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
Pricing should reflect your value. Don’t assume that being the cheapest will get you more business – you might just look suspiciously cheap. Establish what your costs are and evaluate your competitors’ pricing, and take a view on what your market can stand. Then decide where you want to position your offering relative to these factors. You may want to be viewed as a luxury item, or you may want to be seen as accessible to all. You may need volumes for production economies of scale or you may prefer to limit volumes and earn a greater profit per item.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
I was away and relied on a colleague to proofread an ad before it went to print. There was a typo in the headline. Bad enough for any client, but particularly so when the client is a university and it looks like they can’t spell! I discovered it too late to stop it going to print and there was nothing I could do. I phoned the client and told them before they found out elsewhere. Abject apologies and loads of humble-pie – and a relationship of trust and respect – got me past this.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Spending money they don’t yet have and focusing on an image of success instead of the work they produce.

How do you keep yourself motivated?
Get dressed and go to work. If you aren’t busy producing work for paying clients, you should be developing your marketing.

Do you have a mentor?
I never really had a mentor, but the single best piece of advice I was given was: When you don’t know where to start, just start. It’s funny how that questions that you need to ask and the research you need do become evident as you begin to structure your project.

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
I’m sure this varies by environment. In an area like advertising and graphic design, you are asking a client to trust you with his company image and reputation as well as his money, so it can take a lot longer to build a business than if you are selling low-price, low risk products, where if your product doesn’t live up to expectations they simply don’t have to re-order. You need to build a suitable time-frame into your plan.

What’s your life motto?
Life is too short to do a job you don’t love. 

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Apologise when you mess up. And you will! Don’t make excuses.
* Don’t work with clients you don’t respect.
* Don’t work with clients who don’t respect you.
* Know where the money is.
* Don’t be embarrassed to chase clients who owe you money – they’re the ones who should be embarrassed.

Get in touch with Ann Druce from Octarine Communications via: www.octarine.co.za, on LinkedIn and on Twitter: @AnnDruce

28 September 2012

Infographic: Estée Lauder on hard work

Estée Lauder
Cosmetics entrepreneur Estée Lauder was not only sussed about business, she was also a woman who was years ahead of her time -- a real visionary who we can learn a lot from. Check out her story here and happy weekend!

27 September 2012

Robin Sharma: 21 tips to become the most productive person you know

Robin Sharma
I'm a Robin Sharma junkie, having worked with him for a few issues during my time at a South African men's magazine. So anything he has to say, he has a rapt audience in me -- Robin tends to give very practical advice that anyone can implement in their lives. This morning's Robin Sharma newsletter was particularly amazing, so I've reproduced it here: it's too good not to share with everyone!

Here are Robin Sharma's 21 tips to get you to your best productivity:

1. Check email in the afternoon so you protect the peak energy hours of your mornings for your best work.

2. Stop waiting for perfect conditions to launch a great project. Immediate action fuels a positive feedback loop that drives even more action.

3. Remember that big, brave goals release energy. So set them clearly and then revisit them every morning for 5 minutes.

4. Mess creates stress (I learned this from tennis icon Andre Agassi who said he wouldn't let anyone touch his tennis bag because if it got disorganized, he'd get distracted). So clean out the clutter in your office to get more done.

5. Sell your TV. You're just watching other people get successful versus doing the things that will get you to your dreams.

6. Say goodbye to the energy vampires in your life (the negative souls who steal your enthusiasm). 

7. Run routines. When I studied the creative lives of massively productive people like Stephen King, John Grisham and Thomas Edison, I discovered they follow strict daily routines. (i.e., when they would get up, when they would start work, when they would exercise and when they would relax). Peak productivity's not about luck. It's about devotion.

8. Get up at 5 am. Win the battle of the bed. Put mind over mattress. This habit alone will strengthen your willpower so it serves you more dutifully in the key areas of your life.

9. Don't do so many meetings. (I've trained the employees of our FORTUNE 500 clients on exactly how to do this - including having the few meetings they now do standing up - and it's created breakthrough results for them).

10. Don't say yes to every request. Most of us have a deep need to be liked. That translates into us saying yes to everything - which is the end of your elite productivity.

11. Outsource everything you can't be BIW (Best in the World) at. Focus only on activities within what I call "Your Picasso Zone".

12. Stop multi-tasking. New research confirms that all the distractions invading our lives are rewiring the way our brains work (and drop our IQ by 5 points!). Be one of the rare-air few who develops the mental and physical discipline to have a mono-maniacal focus on one thing for many hours. (It's all about practice).

13. Get fit like Madonna. Getting to your absolute best physical condition will create explosive energy, renew your focus and multiply your creativity.

14. Workout 2x a day. Exercise is one of the greatest productivity tools in the world. So do 20 minutes first thing in the morning and then another workout around 6 or 7pm to set you up for wow in the evening.

15. Drink more water. When you're dehydrated, you'll have far less energy. And get less done. 

16. Work in 90 minute blocks with 10 minute intervals to recover and refuel (another game-changing move I personally use to do my best work).

17. Write a Stop Doing List. Every productive person obsessively sets To Do Lists. But those who play at world-class also record what they commit to stop doing. Steve Jobs said that what made Apple Apple was not so much what they chose to build but all the projects they chose to ignore.

18. Use your commute time. If you're commuting 30 minutes each way every day -- get this: at the end of a year, you've spent 6 weeks of 8 hour days in your car. I encourage you to use that time to listen to fantastic books on audio + excellent podcasts and valuable learning programs. Remember, the fastest way to double your income is to triple your rate of learning.

19. Be a contrarian. Why buy your groceries at the time the store is busiest? Why go to movies on the most popular nights? Why hit the gym when the gym's completely full? Do things at off-peak hours and you'll save so many of them.

20. Get things right the first time. Most people are wildly distracted these days. And so they make mistakes. To unleash your productivity, become one of the special performers who have the mindset of doing what it takes to get it flawless first. This saves you days of having to fix problems.

21. Get lost. Don't be so available to everyone. I often spend hours at a time in the cafeteria of a university close to our headquarters. I turn off my devices and think, create, plan and write. Zero interruptions. Pure focus. Massive results.

For more awesome Robin Sharma wisdom, visit: www.robinsharma.com

26 September 2012

Emma Dunk: Networking is key to growth

Emma Dunk, EM-Between Communications
Emma Dunk from KwaZulu-Natal started EM-Between Communications, a public relations consultancy in June 2003 after deciding that a life back in the corporate world wasn’t as fulfilling as being a new mum. So she seized the opportunity and hasn’t looked back!

What were you doing before starting your business?
I worked in a corporate PR firm and then moved across to the advertising agency world. I worked at two different agencies as an account executive. The pressure and fast pace took a serious strain on my health and, as a result, I took longer to fall pregnant than I’d expected. Almost two years later my husband and I were blessed with a healthy baby boy (Ethan) and my whole world changed. I knew then that I didn’t want to go back to the corporate world and thought “If not now, when will I ever start my own business?” My passion always remained in PR, so the decision to move solely into this field was easy.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
There wasn’t too much “heavy” planning involved to be completely honest. I brainstormed a business name and settled on EM-Between Communications (for obvious reasons J), had my company name registered and then got a friend who was a graphic designer to design my logo.

What was your start up capital and where did you work from?
I converted my study at home into a small office, bought a computer, printer, fax machine, new office furniture, office stationery etc. Paid my graphic designer friend a whopping R250 for my logo and had a basic website developed. Total set up costs where just over R10 000, which I borrowed from my folks and repaid them within my first year in business.

What was your big dream for this venture?
One of my USP’s (Unique Selling Propositions) was the fact that I was a small consultancy and was therefore able to provide my clients with personal attention – they wouldn’t be palmed off to a junior account executive (AE) who didn’t know how to handle their account. Another big attraction for clients was the fact that I would build relationships on their behalf with key media and get them free below-the-line coverage. Working with someone on a retainer basis is also appealing to clients, as they don’t have the pressure of having to employ a permanent person and set them up with an office, furniture, equipment etc. It’s a far more cost effective option with not as many strings attached!

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
I found networking key to the growth of my business. I joined up with a few networking groups and made sure I met with as many new people as possible – having one-on-one coffee appointments with people so that we could get to know each other and I’d have the opportunity to explain what I do. After all, people only do business with people they know, trust and respect. Ask for testimonials from existing clients and use them! I was pleasantly surprised at how willing my clients were to oblige. Testimonials are your biggest and most powerful form of advertising, especially in a service-related field!

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
Listen to what the market is saying: what problem are they experiencing and how can you help or fix it – make yourself the solution. In my case, I kept contact with a few of the clients from the advertising agency I had left and noticed a common thread when chatting with them – they all complained that they weren’t receiving the attention that they felt they deserved, as they had been pushed from junior AE to junior AE. They also wanted help in getting more free coverage and more below-the-line space in conjunction with their advertising as budgets were getting tighter and tighter.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
I phoned around, Googled and spoke with other contacts in the industry to conduct research in terms of fee structures and billing options, and then positioned myself slap-bang in the middle – not too expensive and not cheap!

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
I had an idea of what I wanted my company logo to look like and got my graphic designer friend to do a few options of it for me to show to friends and family for their opinions. In a nutshell I wanted EM to be placed in the middle of the word communications – I figured this would be quite clever and would literally show EM in-between the word communications. Long story short… this was an epic fail and nobody else got it at all – if anything, they were all completely baffled! I quickly swallowed my pride and had my graphic designer buddy get stuck in to doing what she does best!

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
I think they often fall into the trap of saying yes to any and all business that comes their way instead of being selective with the types of clients they know they should be working with. Another mistake I think most new entrepreneurs make is under-valuing their time – or cutting their price just to get the work … big mistake!

How do you keep yourself motivated to continue?
I have a gratitude journal that I try to write in as often as I can … I always go back to it if I’m feeling low and page through it… within no time I am feeling less sorry for myself and ready to carry on moving forward!

Did you have a mentor?
I didn’t have one mentor in particular, but rather surrounded myself with a core group of other women in business who were always a phone call or email away with help, advice and reassurance!

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
I started off small with only one retainer client and slowly grew from there. It took me eight months before I managed to secure my second retainer client. Rather than shut shop if things aren’t picking up, I say tweak your offering.

Do you believe in internships for your business?
Yes, I have already had three students spend time with me – generally for a few days/week at a time. If readers want to intern, it’s a simple process: email me: emma@embetween.co.za  

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Ask for help! You will be amazed at how many people are willing to give you advice freely!
* Stick to your knitting: stick to what you are good at and outsource what you battle with.
* Get a good accountant if, like me, accounting isn’t your thing.
* Learn to say no when you need to… and be okay with it.
* Get networking!

Get in touch with Emma Dunk from EM-Between Communications via email: emma@embetween.co.za, visit: www.embetween.co.za, find her on Facebook, Twitter: @Embetween and on LinkedIn

25 September 2012

Michael Gullan: Don't underestimate good PR

Michael Gullan, Gullan&Gullan Advertising
In 2004, Michael Gullan made the leap into entrepreneurship by starting his own advertising agency, Gullan&Gullan Advertising (Pty) Ltd with a business partner. Their start-up capital was R100 000 and the pair were based out of Seattle Coffee Shop in Hyde Park Corner Shopping Centre in Johannesburg until they won their first client – Vespa – who they still have as a client today.

Have you always been entrepreneurial or is it something that’s grown over time?
My father is a successful entrepreneur and one of his ventures was an advertising and public relations company. As a child, I used to spend time playing in the studio of his agency. I knew then that I wanted to own my own agency

What kind of planning went into starting your venture?
When we started our agency we had no formal business plan. We formalised things a few years into the business. We started with a clear vision and mission of the kind of clients and work we wanted to attract and then went out and found it. That said, for a business-to-business service industry, I can’t see how too much of a technical business plan is relevant or helpful to charting the way forward. What is important is understanding your core offering and point of difference, positioning against competitors and mapping out your financial goals, and then making sure they are met. 

What was your big dream for your venture? 
We originally started the business as Guerrilla Marketing and our niche was to offer clients smart guerrilla marketing tactics and strikes that would have a maximum impact with tighter budgets. This positioning was limiting in that the bigger corporate brands were not interested in guerrilla tactics and so we struggled to make inroads for our full services agency. This is when we made the decision to rebrand Guerrilla Marketing as Gullan&Gullan and developed our proprietary brand-centricTM methodology. 

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them? 
Identify sectors that you have some background experience in, as you will be able to add value and have an intelligent conversation when pitching your services. Target these sectors first by calling key decision-makers. Be sure you have smart and good quality supporting sales and marketing brochures, emails, business cards and website in place so you can communicate with them from multiple angles. What I always recommend is PR; there is nothing more effective for brands and businesses than some good ink, even more so than traditional awareness marketing. It comes with the journalist and media endorsement, and has much more gravitas. 

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique from everyone else and leverage that difference? 
A SWOT analysis would be the obvious answer. But for a start up it’s prudent and important to know what you’re good at and amplify that. Be sure to interrogate your competitors and focus on being strong where they are weak. Also, without sounding too idealist – if you can do what you enjoy and are passionate about, you’re more likely to excel at it. 

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product? 
Pricing your product or service is one of the most important considerations. You need to research understand what your main competitors are doing. And have a clear set of objectives. Do you want to drive volume? If yes, then you should be priced competitively. Do you want a quality positioning? Then you should be charging a slight premium. Are you providing a luxury service; then you should be charging substantially more. Remember the general rule of thumb: The more expensive the more you have to invest in marketing.

What was your most epic fail in the early days? 
Positioning ourselves as a guerrilla marketing agency for clients with small budgets – our own growth potential was limited. The rebranding to Gullan&Gullan was the best solution, we moved offices, rebranded, developed our brand-centricTM methodology and got a bunch of PR and we never looked back. 

What are the two most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make in their first three years of business?
Choosing the wrong business partners out of financial necessity – it is so difficult to get out of an ailing business partnership so rather don’t have partners or go, instead, into a partnership where the skills are complementary. Hiring cheap staff is also fraught – pay peanuts and get monkeys – so be prepared to pay the price for experience and expertise in key-areas of your business. 

How do you keep yourself motivated? 
I am a member of the Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO) and can always pick up the phone to any one of my fellow members and ask for advice or just a coffee to download some of my frustrations in a safe space. 

Do you have a mentor? 
A mentor is one of the most important assets an entrepreneur can have. I have my father who has successfully built a number of businesses, but he travels for half the year so is not always accessible day to day. Mostly, I draw on his grace, wisdom and in challenging times think, “What would my dad do?” My partner, Desiree, is also a mentor and helps me see and understand things from a viewpoint I don’t always see. 

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground? 
In my experience there are no overnight successes. Even when you hear about a business that became an instant success, I can guarantee that there was at least five to 10 years of history of plugging away. So give yourself at least three years to turn a small profit and at least five to 10 years to achieve your success goals. You should always be looking at ways to improve your offering. People, behaviours and business changes too rapidly for any company to stagnate. The old adage “adapt or die” is too true! 

Is it ever alright to give up on a dream? 
Yes, when your dream becomes a nightmare, you need to wake up and smell the coffee. Then take a deep, honest look within and if need be let go of your dream and cut your losses quickly. Then take the time to learn from your mistakes and apply your learnings to your next dream. 

What’s your life motto? 
Family first. Everything else second. So whatever decision I make, I ask “Is this to the benefit of my family now and in the future?” 

Which three character traits do all entrepreneurs possess? 
A healthy appetite to take risks. The ability to function on little sleep. Being ok with making mistakes. 

If you could give yourself any advice when starting out, what would your top 5 wisdoms be? 
* Hire people smarter than you. 
* Be sure you have enough start-up capital. 
* Be clear about your positioning in the market. 
* Set realistic goals, write them down and have an action plan to achieve them. 
* Embrace change. Business is dynamic and the ability to adapt and change with the business is key to success. 

Get in touch with Michael Gullan from Gullan&Gullan via email: michael@gullanandgullan.com, visit: www.gullanandgullan.com, find him on Facebook and on LinkedIn

17 September 2012

William Duk: 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year

William Duk, The Plantation Shutter Co.
William Duk is managing director of The Plantation Shutter Company and, with credit to his entrepreneurial mettle in turning a failed company around, was recently awarded top honours as the 2012 Sanlam/ Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year®. He took over the running of the failed business in February 2007 with 30 staff and 39 “on hold” projects already lined up. Today the company is a successful and sustainable brand.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I have always been entrepreneurial even though I followed quite a traditional path by becoming a CA. This was always with a view to running my own business.

What were you doing before starting your business?
I had spent six and half years in the UK and arrived back in South Africa at the start of 2006 to “do my own thing”. My passion has always been business but as I had been away for a number of years, I felt that a more logical starting point would be focussing on property investing while building up contacts and keeping an open mind. I had some pounds saved up in the UK and used that to start a small commercial and industrial property portfolio. It was through that focus that I stumbled across my current business – it was a going concern, days away from failing and I purchased the building.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
The due diligence was only a three-day process as there was a small window of opportunity where the business could either have been revived or gone into full liquidation. My cash was all tied up in the buildings so the plan was therefore based around using the cash released from the sale of the building to me to get things moving in the right direction. It was very much a back-to-basics-type approach starting with the existing order book of 49 disillusioned clients. Of the 49, 39 still wanted their orders fulfilled, despite waiting for four to five months at that stage. Those that didn’t want their orders fulfilled were given their 50% deposits back. The rest of the money was used to pay off salaries that weren’t paid from October to December and to put payment plans in place with suppliers that had all gone legal.

What was your start up capital?
There was no start up capital per se – we used the funds released from the sale of the building. Over the next two years though, as I managed to get some of my funds out of my property portfolio, I invested money to fund initial losses and capital expansion programme.

What was your big dream for this venture?
As with anything I do, I wanted this to be the best shutter company in South Africa and through being “exceptional” ensure that the business is sustainable through the various stages of any economic cycle.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
There is no right or wrong way. It is about trying different things, measuring them and then seeing what works and what doesn’t. Word of mouth will however be a key part of any lead-generating exercise. I think statistically on average an unhappy client will tell 10 people and a happy client will refer two or three people with the chance of them converting being extremely high. If you’re not making your clients happy, spending time or money working out how to generate leads will result in a very short-lived business.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
Understanding these differences needs to be core to your approach from the outset. It needs to form part of ones “homework” before you embark on the journey.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
It’s a combination of understanding what it costs to produce and deliver, and what the market is prepared to pay for the product or service.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
We relied on the final production measurements and other information we had on file to deliver the 39 back orders of people that still wanted us to fulfil their order and not just give their deposits back. With a complex, expensive, custom designed product, this turned out to be an expensive and hard lesson. Our first step was all about restoring some credibility in the marketplace, so we had to do it correctly. In hindsight, we should’ve just put each order back through a process as though they were new orders. If this delay meant losing more of the orders and paying deposits back, then so be it.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Getting ahead of themselves and not putting proper fiscal disciplines in place.

How do you keep yourself motivated?
Friends are friends through good times and bad, so perhaps choose your friends carefully if this is an issue! Motivation during tough times must always come from the bigger picture. In tough economic times you can also just open up any newspaper and read about yet another round of retrenchments to provide extra motivation, as most of those employees had very little control over their own destiny. No matter how hard it is sometimes, as an entrepreneur you’re at least in control of your own destiny ;)

Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor but I do think this can be very useful. I derived a lot of value (and still do), reading business books by or about people who have earned respect though what they’ve achieved in business, like Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs or Sir Richard Branson. You can achieve a lot of inspiration from others who have been successful and save a lot of time learning from others mistakes.

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
No less than 18 months and anywhere up to four years, depending on economic environment.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
Many of these are unique to partnering with the original founding partner prior to buying him out two years ago and then also entering into a recession just when we were gathering momentum:
* Taking over a failed business is in many ways harder than starting something from scratch.
* When someone thinks that something is a certain way, in reality, nine times out of 10, it will always be worse.
* If you’re buying any existing business, ensure you get statements of account on SARS liabilities as an easy way to see how well the business has been run (or not). It can be very time consuming to get a Tax Clearance Certificate but it’s very quick to get statements of account if you’re pushed for time during your due diligence.
* Things will always take longer to rectify than you think. A bit like building a house.
* Make sure you are aligned with whoever you go into business with; otherwise rather employ someone to fulfil that role.

Get in touch with William Duk from The Plantation Shutter Company via their website: http://www.plantation.co.za/, on Facebook and on Twitter: @pshutterco.

14 September 2012

Infographic: The ease of African entrepreneurship

Another fantastic infographic from @ivanisawesome at Afrographique

So if this 2011 data from the World Bank is to be believed, your average South African entrepreneur takes 22 days to complete all the procedures necessary to legally operate a business. It seems things happen faster in smaller countries like Rwanda, Madagascar and Mali -- huh?

Anyway, have a fantastic weekend!

12 September 2012

Wednesday 101s: 7 steps to mastering minute-taking

Wednesday 101s
Taking minutes is easy-peasy. Don’t freak out; just pay attention and you’ll be fine. Remember, you’re there as an observer to record what went down in a particular meeting, who said what, so everyone knows what was discussed and what their next steps are. This is called “on the record”.

While people are fussing round the boardroom table, note down the names of everyone present, starting with the boss and going around the table clockwise. Be very careful about the spelling of names – get it right! Then assign them initials; example: Chris Brown becomes CB for shorthand purposes. You’ll also need to know their job title, but you can look that up offline later when you type it up properly.

Make a note of the date of the meeting, the time and venue. If there’s an agenda, keep it a bullet-style list and include in your final document. Also make a note of absentees.

Taking minutes is like writing down what a professor has said during a lecture, except this time you want his wisdom and everyone else’s, even if it means writing notes dialogue-style. If the discussion is about a specific agenda item, always make sure to note what was said, what the next steps are, who’s accountable for doing them and the deadline by which things need to get done.

If any votes happen, note how many were for, and their names. How many against, and their names. And how many didn’t respond, and their names. Then note the result of the vote.

Note the time of any breaks or adjournments – and recommencements – as well as the time the meeting ends. Get a deadline from your boss on when he expects to see the first draft. This is usually before close of business or first thing the next day.

Using a company letterhead, type up the minutes so that they make sense – we all have shorthand we use but not everyone’s is the same, so keep things understandable. Check out the example below on how to present the document. Also make sure that the minutes run to the agenda, even if the meeting didn't. Spell-check your document before you print out your first draft and give to the boss for checking and approval. Not all bosses need to approve minutes as every company has different systems in place. 

Example of minutes

Once approved, mail a copy to each of the attendees of the meeting, as well as the people who were absent and invite their comments and/or any amendments by a certain date. Print out a copy and put it on file.

Do you have a system that works better for you? Let me know below...

11 September 2012

Leron Varsha: Learning from experience

Leron Varsha, Fore Good
Leron Varsha is the CEO and co-founder of Fore Good, one of South Africa’s leading fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) brand builders. He started this family business in 2004 from his sister’s study and has since grown the company into a South African market leader through brands like Pringles, Samsung, Tang and Bioplus.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I started in the corporate tech world, but I have always had an entrepreneurial goal.

What were you doing before starting your business?
I was involved in all areas of technology, including web and management. I always had a desire to learn more and to go to the next level. I never wanted to remain in the same field, to keep learning different things. I returned from London and wanted to start my own business.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
The idea is usually only a starting point. As business evolves, it starts with a certain idea, and then alternate opportunities open up. The business plan is important to sell yourself to potential investors and to ensure that you are on track with your envisaged goals. However they need to be constantly updated. Some of the essential requirements is a brief overview of the business, the people involved (incl. their expertise), the projected expenses and incomes, as well as a start-up expense sheet.

What was your start up capital and where did you work from?
We started with basic salaries and initial funding from a partner, working from my sister’s study.

What was your big dream for this venture?
Our vision has remained constant: “Fore Good is a dynamic investment and global trading company primarily focused on the Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) sector”.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
Every business has a different target for lead generation; you need to understand who your potential clients are and then service them better than anyone else.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
Uniqueness can be on a product or service basis. With products an example may be performance or pricing superiority, while in a service business it may mean the best at a certain component.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product? 
This is extremely important and often makes the difference between success and failure. Your pricing needs to be competitive in the market, however if you are offering additional value you need to ensure that you are charging for this, and that the client is willing to pay the premium. Also if you cost according to the market and do not have a good enough offering this will be an issue. Certain industries also work on scale; you need to ensure that you can compete on what you offer and the price points in the market.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
Most perceived failures contain elements of successes and learning. For example, purchasing the incorrect product or quantity, can be painful, however you may still be able to sell to alternate channels to recover your capital investment.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Most new entrepreneurs are impatient and they believe success will happen overnight. They don’t understand the time, hard work and passion that are required to get a project off the ground.

Did you have a mentor?
Yes, my uncle. There’s not one most valuable piece of advice, but rather a lifetime of learning from experience. A mentor is fundamental to great success. Learn from their way of thinking.

Which three character traits do all entrepreneurs possess?
Perseverance, determination and a never let up attitude J

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Listen intently to the other person, experience is essential.
* Absorb and learn as much about the industry as you can.
* Growth comes with pain; you can push yourself even further than you ever imagined!
* Understand as much about the financials as you possibly can.
* Get the right people on the bus.

Get in touch with Leron Varsha from Fore Good via email: info@foregood.com, visit: www.foregood.com or find him on LinkedIn and Twitter: @LVarsha.

10 September 2012

Roberto De Carvalho: Get out of the kitchen to see your clients

Roberto De Carvalho, Roberto's
Signature Restaurant

Photo: Peter Unsworth 
Since he was nine years old, Roberto De Carvalho dreamed of being a chef and owning his own restaurant. So, after gaining valuable experience at some world-famous eateries like Nobu and Reuben’s, both at the One&Only in Cape Town, De Carvalho opened Roberto’s Signature Restaurant at 44 Long Street, in July 2011 with 12 staff.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
For 16 years I worked for other people, but the last three years, I would probably say, is when I started to formulate how I would go about starting my own restaurant.

What were you doing before starting your business?
Prior to this I was the resort Executive Chef at the One&Only Hotel. Being in charge of world-renowned restaurants such as Nobu and Reuben’s at the One&Only also made me realise that I was capable of opening and running a successful restaurant of my own.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
I would say that an elaborate business plan is necessary, especially if you are opening a restaurant with many facets to think about (décor, food style, pricing, location, etc.). It gives you a good place to start from and I think that when you write a business plan for your own restaurant, you want your business to be the best it can be. It’s a great reminder too if you try and keep what you are doing on a daily basis, in line with what you thought of when you first did your business plan.

What was your start up capital and where did you work from?
My capital came from 10 years of saving and some investment from my father – I contacted letting agents and then started to view premises for my restaurant until I found the one which I thought had the best location, as well as the best rental payment that I could afford.

What was your big dream for this venture?
To be the best Mediterranean-style restaurant in Cape Town, offering five-star quality food and service at affordable prices.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
Every possible angle has to be utilised – in my line of business it means staying in touch with the concierges of the surrounding hotels, so that they send their guests to us for at least one meal while they’re in Cape Town. This brings many new feet into the restaurant – people who would probably never have known about us had the concierge not informed them about us.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
By seeking out weaknesses in other businesses like yours and implementing better ways of doing things in your own business – I have found that not many restaurants in Cape Town cater to the vegetarian population, so I’ve implemented a vegetarian menu with new and different items on it to bring the vegetarians back and get them talking about it to their friends who are also vegetarian.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
For me, I did price comparisons between the other restaurants around me. To start off, I pegged our prices somewhere in the middle of the competition because I didn’t want to be the cheapest, but I also didn’t want to be the most expensive and scare potential customers away when they saw the menu. From there, after a few months, I became aware of items that customers said they couldn’t get better in other restaurants, which meant I could then start to adjust the prices slightly to balance with the demand for those dishes.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
Hiring the wrong staff – I eventually re-hired and became more stringent in the hiring process.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make in their first three years of business?
Over-capitalising and not sticking to budgets.

How do you keep yourself motivated?
By remembering a little 9-year-old boy who was adamant that he wanted to be a chef and make people happy by providing them with the food that they like to eat.

Did you have a mentor?
I have three major mentors in my life: my father, who taught me to either do something properly or not at all; the second is Rudi Liebenberg who, I believe, pushed me in the right direction to make me the chef that I am today. My third mentor is Clive Bennett, who taught me the finer details of running a business from the financial aspect and forced me to rethink ideas I had about how to try and run a business with as little costs as possible.

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
In the restaurant business, I think it takes at least three years to get your name out to as many people as possible and that action plan should be tweaked as many times as needed during this time to make the business a viable entity. After that period, if you’re still not succeeding, I think it would be a good idea to shut shop.

In your opinion, is it ever alright to give up on a dream?
No it isn’t, as long as it is not to the detriment of your health or financial stability!

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Save more money in summer to cover the winter months.
* Make sure to count stock more regularly to ensure that all is accounted for.
* Put more Portuguese items on the menu from the get-go as there’s a lack of good Portuguese food in Cape Town.
* Train staff more thoroughly. Show them how you want things to be done and triple check that they understand how you want the “ship” to be steered.
* Get out of the kitchen and speak to your customers every chance that you get.

Get in touch with Roberto De Carvalho from Roberto’s Signature Restaurant via email: info@robertodecarvalho.co.za, visit: www.robertodecarvalho.co.za or find him on Facebook or Twitter: @chefdecarvalho

07 September 2012

As an entrepreneur, are you a diamond?

Another gem (ha ha ha!) from Pinterest

"When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure" -- Peter Marshall

05 September 2012

Wednesday 101s: 5 quick answers to tricky questions

Wednesday 101s
It’s happened to me a million times – you’re in a meeting and someone (the boss, a client, a potential business partner) asks you a question you’re just not ready for. And instead of sitting there like a boggle-eyed fish blowing bubbles in a bowl, I’ve always wanted some sort of quick-response guide to provide an adequate enough answer to keep the meeting moving forward and to win an opportunity to respond later with the correct information.

I’ve said before that it’s imperative to go to meetings completely prepared (especially where figures/numbers are concerned, when it’s harder to weasel out of something) but you simply can’t anticipate everything – and, let’s face it, some questions are there to deliberately trip you up. But you can stumble, roll and stand up tall with losing credibility

The three main rules for answering questions are: 
1. Be honest. Don’t lie to cover up something you don’t know as it may come back to bite you in the ass later. Saying “I don’t know” is sometimes to your detriment, so avoid it. 

2. Be direct and confident, not defensive. A positive, pro-active reply will get you further. 

3. Don’t waffle. Give the exact information that’s required to answer what’s being asked in a simple manner. Baffling people with flowery, fancy words and jargon you assume they’ll understand doesn’t make you look clever. It’s just cringe-worthy. 

So here are five quick responses for when you’re asked a tricky question – it’s up to you to decide when to use them: 

1. The deliberately dumb question 
“I get what you’re saying but I believe the question you should be asking is...” 

2. The question that’s completely out of left field that’s really important 
“I don’t have an answer for you, but your question deserves a proper answer and I’d like to take the time to do that offline if that's okay.” 

3. Specific question about something, which is confusing or unclear (when your inner voice goes "huh?") 
“Just to make sure I understand, you’re asking me to....” rephrase their query in your own words to make sure you get what it is they want to know of you. Once you get clarity, you’re better able to craft your response. 

4. A question about your opinion on something 
Often, unless you’re senior management, your personal opinion isn’t in question. Avoid the urge to get into gossip, company politics and discussing confidential business matters. In your response, stick to a reply that’s true to your company’s or project’s ethos

5. A question that asks you to show your expertise 
“What we learned from working with Client X on Project A last year was...” 

I personally tend to favour response no 2 if I don't know something or haven't got the info with me. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. So if you have any responses that you've tried and they've worked, please add them as a comment.