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3 must-haves for a small business

The business of being in business is no easy feat. There are so many factors to take into consideration to ensure the profitability of an offering. From attracting customers, retaining them, converting them to purchase goods, to having them return for additional purchases are all the functions a business owner needs to tend to. Not forgetting the all-important after sales service.

When businesses are run alone, business owners often find themselves struggling to tend to these essential business functions optimally. The introduction of business convenience mechanisms is thus vital to the survival of small businesses. These mechanisms, largely electronic based, help business owners to effectively manage and grow their businesses.

Business software

Back in the day, businesses manually recorded all sales and other important business related information. Today, this is no longer necessary and in fact, it is deemed very burdensome to do so. With the introduction of software packages to see to these tasks, business owners are provided with convenient accounting software to record transactions and manage the finances of their businesses easily. In addition, businesses can easily pull reports to gauge the growth of the business.

The core of a business is its customers, and managing customer information is thus vital to the success of a business. Customer relationship software is a must-have for businesses to retain their customer base as it can track customer purchase behavior, the profiling of clientele and also assists in regular engagements with them. There are a number of different software packages available for businesses, but the use of these packages is essential for businesses to run efficiently.

Security

Theft is rife within businesses and proper precautions need to be taken to ensure that no financial losses are sustained as a result. One surefire way to curb theft is the presence of closed circuit cameras. As much as it can help identify perpetrators in the event of theft, it can also act as a deterrent for burglars who are looking to pocket merchandise or equipment. Other deterrents such as alarm systems, security gates and window protection also add to the overall security of a business.

If a business sees a large amount of foot traffic, the installation of turnstiles also adds an element of safety as it gives customers one way to enter and exit. This limits the chances of someone entering and exiting the store without paying as they will need to exit at a designated point. Moreover, intelligent turnstiles can assist the business owner with important customer information through tracking the amount of people who enter the business. For example, if a business sees a certain amount of traffic into the business, but this traffic doesn’t convert into sales, there is likely to be a problem with the price of goods or how appealing the merchandise is to customers. By knowing this information, a business owner can easily adapt his or her strategy to convert these mere feet into once-off or repeat customers.

A website

A website for a small business is essential. However, the development of a website alone is not enough – it needs to be found by those who are looking for it. For this reason, content on the website needs to be optimized for search engines and also be free from any vagueness.  By its very nature, a website exposes a business to prospective customers like no other channel or platform would. It gives visitors an indication of what the business offers and where to find the business. This mechanism, if used properly, can be a major driver for sales and can serve as a means for growth too.

The mistake most small business owners make is to create a website and leave it unchanged forever. A website needs to be updated regularly so that it can be more appealing to its viewers, but more importantly, so that it can rank better when searched for in Google. Lastly, a website should be seen as the windows to a business, if it is covered and the contents of the store is not visible, people are less likely to enter and make a purchase. Should it be clear, with the contents of the store visible, it is more appealing to passersby and would probably result in a sale of some kind.

There’s more to business than just profit

All businesses exist to make a profit by providing a certain product or service. However, there is more to a business than just profit generation. According to the King 3 report on good corporate governance, a business has three fundamental areas of focus.  These are; Profit, Planet and People.

The profit area of focus is self-explanatory and has to do with the business’s ability to remain liquid. The planet area of focus deals with the environment and the responsibility of a business to preserve it. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, is the focus area on people. This area of focus deals with a company’s responsibility to its immediate environment, particularly the people who reside in it. It has to do with uplifting the community through giving back in any way or form.

There has been a strong focus by big corporates over the past decade on social responsibility which may have left smaller businesses wondering whether they are required to give back too. There is no requirement, it is a voluntary service provided and is not limited to opt-in based on business size. Businesses of all sizes are able to give back to a charitable cause and thereby uplift their immediate community.

How does one go about it? Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is more than just throwing money at a charitable initiative randomly. It is a committed long-term relationship built around the mission of the business. The first step is to evaluate the business and identify its vision. Once established, align this vision to a suitable charitable organisation. This is followed by appointing a team or individual who will be responsible for fostering a good relationship. Most importantly, the business needs to identify its commitments and make sure that these are realistic and time-bound. Lastly, once implemented, businesses should constantly evaluate the progress of their CSR initiatives and seek to improve on the performance thereof.

To kickstart this seemingly daunting process, a few Cape-based initiatives have been identified below:

BEN (Bicycle Empowerment Network South Africa)

The Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) South Africa was established in Cape Town in 2002. In simple terms, the core mission of BEN is to address poverty and mobility through the promotion of the bicycle in all its forms. The initiative imports used bicycles and distributes it among previously disadvantaged areas along with proper training on bicycle safety and maintenance. Donations to the organisation goes towards the cost of purchasing a bicycle and the related items such as shipping, helmets, tool sets etc. Assistance does not only need to come in the form of monetary donations, it can also be the donation of relevant general cycle items such as used bicycles, helmets and other safety equipment, mountain bike wheelsets as well as bicycle trailers and attachments among others. Should your company have offices across the country, BEN has 17 Bicycling Empowerment Centres around South Africa. Since its inception, the organisation was able to distribute over 12 000 new and used bikes to those who needed it. Moreover, the organisation is able to help address job creation and the access to it.

Ikamva Labantu

Around 30 years ago, Helen Lieberman began a tiny program to help mothers and children after she was exposed to the effects of poverty in her surroundings. The program grew into an organisation and is known as Ikamva Labuntu. The organisation helps thousands of people in need in South Africa through support, information and resources. The main aim of the organisation is to make communities in South Africa self-reliant. To this end, it builds and supports crèches, schools, senior and youth centres, programs for the disabled, skills training and building initiatives. In addition, Ikamva Labantu makes use of the services provided by social workers, occupational therapists, community fieldworkers, nurses and teams of volunteers. In order to continue providing support and upliftment to those who need it, Ikamva Labantu relies on donations received from individuals and organisations. Should the broad and vital cause of this organisation align to yours, you can assist with donations as well as by spreading the word on its existence and initiatives.

Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust

The Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust was founded in 1994 after the Red Cross War Memorial, located in Rondebosch, was near to closing its doors due to a lack of funding. The Trust provides the hospital with funding in order to carry out its various projects ranging from capital, equipment, research and training to funding paediatric healthcare projects outside of the hospital. All of these projects have a major impact on the lives of children in need of care across Southern Africa. There are many ways in which businesses can help the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust. One of the most common, and possibly the most valuable, is the donation of funds – whether it be in their own capacity or through the hosting of a fundraising event. In addition, businesses can also volunteer their time with projects by becoming a Friend of the Children’s Hospital Association.

By actively undertaking CSR initiatives, businesses are not only able to easily build its brand by positively influencing its reputation and raise its public profile, but also attract and retain valuable staff members seeking to make a difference to society. Furthermore, customers and investors are naturally attracted to companies who have a degree of social responsibility and gives them a good reason to support you and your business.

How is Your Hotel’s Conference Room Doing?

If you started reading this article, there is a high probability that people aren’t falling over themselves to make bookings. You’re looking for answers as to why not. Could it be that the croissants aren’t soft enough? Is the room too cold? It could be something this simple…

Or could it be because you’re not marketing the venue properly?

If potential clients don’t know that the hotel has a conference room or meeting venue, it won’t matter how great the food or perfect the conditions are – because they won’t come.

Here is how to get more bookings, more often:

Go to where the clients are

The first order of business is to find potential clients. The most logical place to start would be businesses in the area. Then find out which magazines they read and where they spend their lunch hours. Your advertising efforts should be concentrated around these three areas.

Secondly, approach events planners known for organising conferences and speak to PA’s. Offer to take them on a tour of the venue. This will establish a relationship and give them the opportunity to see the facilities for themselves. Nothing else will give them a better feel for the venue.

Harness the power of the internet

Create a page on your website dedicated to the conference and meeting venue. It should be easy to find and ideally it should be possible to reach it with one click from the homepage.

Once the page is up and running, get a professional to write a short article about the venue to submit to other websites. These could be industry specific or related to tourism (to snag international clientele).

Lastly, get the venue listed on local conference venue directories. This is an extremely cost-effective way to create awareness of your hotel and its conference and meeting rooms.

Please take note that you should include all available and appropriate information in the advertising. This would be the hotel’s address, the rates, the facilities on offer and the room’s capacity. Provide contact details as well so that people can easily get hold of you if they have questions.

It is of course not enough to get delegates to your hotel, it’s even more important that they return. You can achieve this with the following strategies:

  • Competent staff: Conference attendees should want for nothing on the day, from arrival to departure. By making only your best staff available, expectations can be met and exceeded.
  • Testimonials: Request testimonials from clientele and publish them on your website. In doing so, anyone that visits the hotel’s website would be able to see that others have had great experiences. This would make anyone more likely to make a booking.
  • Discounts: Offer discounts for big groups or for booking another conference within a specified timeframe. Referral discounts work well too and will get the hotel’s name out there.

Business should pick up with all of these marketing and retention strategies put in place. But if it doesn’t, perhaps the problem is the croissants after all.

6 Financial Tips for New Small Business Owners

What is at the epicentre of every business? Money of course. So what is the one area of your business that should get special attention? The finances.

The first step is to understand basic finance terms, like assets, liabilities, capital, sales, cost of sales, expenses and profits. These make up the bottom line of every business and should be familiar to you even if you’re not totally comfortable with matters relating to accounting. Even a basic understanding will serve you well and help you to make better decisions for your business.

Once those terms are mastered, be sure to keep these tips in mind:

Spread the risk

Never depend on only one or two big clients to keep your business going. These clients can move on to a new supplier at any stage and take their money with them. Invest time and effort into smaller clients as well. They’ll generate a steady stream of income for your business, which will soften the blow if and when the big money spinners move on.

Insure properly

Insurance might seem like a dark hole money is disappearing into every month, but you’ll be glad the money was spent when the time to claim comes. Machinery, stock and site repairs can set you back thousands – if not millions – if you have to pay for it cash, but having proper insurance will delete a lot of those zeros.

Insurance types you should look into are building insurance, insurance against theft, fire and accidental damage, and personal accident and public liability insurance. There are many insurers to choose from in South Africa, so securing a deal that suits your pocket is definitely possible.

Stay on top of things

There are many factors to be aware of when it comes to the finances of a business, but you have to stay on top of everything to make the books balance at the end of the month. For instance, get paid and do payments on time, keep track of all overheads, invoices and receipts.

Easier said than done? Then hire an accountant and automate transactions. Debit orders, like those Digicash offers, ensure that customers pay on time. You won’t even have to do the reconciliation – it’ll be done for you.

Heed the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule states that 80% of results in business will come from 20% of the input. That means 20% of your marketing efforts are bringing in 80% of your business, 20% of your sales staff generates 80% of your profit, and so on. Find out where these 20% sits in your business, then invest time and money in it. Get rid of or limit the rest to increase efficiency.

Be easy to find

This last rule is not directly related to finance, but it’s worth a mention, because if people don’t know your business exists how are you expecting to make money? List your business on local directories, spend money on developing a website that ranks high on search engines and consciously develop your brand name. You don’t have to do everything at once – start with a website and build your business from there.

Have Your Considered Hiring a Lawyer for Your Business?

In the flurry of establishing a brand-new business, one aspect gets left behind quite frequently. That is acquiring the services of a corporate lawyer. Viewed as just another expense to add to the books, it’s easy to understand why that happens.

The truth is that a lawyer can save money for a business in the long run, especially in cases where the company is being sued by a client. It is important to point this out, because at the time when a law suit is filed, it is almost too late to appoint a lawyer.

On the other hand, law suits could be avoided altogether with a lawyer on board. Should a lawsuit happen, however, the company with a lawyer is in a much better position to come out the other side triumphantly than the company without a lawyer.

It is evident that a business lawyer can do more good than harm. Should there still be some reservations based purely on the assumption that enlisting the services of a business lawyer is costly, consider the following: an assumption is just that; something that is accepted as true, without proof. Shop around and negotiate terms and a business lawyer that does not upset the business’s budget is sure to be found.

Keep in mind that only a qualified lawyer can provide expert knowledge on legal matters – it can’t be gained elsewhere. Thus, if money is still an issue, only consult with a lawyer at first, then contract them when there is an exact understanding of the services needed.

The areas in which a business lawyer can assist a business owner which includes, but is not limited to:

  • Business transactions
  • Business processes
  • Contracts
  • Litigation
  • Real estate matters
  • Taxes and licences
  • Intellectual property issues

A quick note here is that is advisable to appoint a lawyer that has knowledge and experience specific to corporate matters. Much like a heart surgeon will be consulted with regards to a heart transplant, as opposed to a general practitioner, the lawyer that has specialised in corporate law would serve a company best. Only such a lawyer would be able to explain the intricacies of zoning compliance, trademark and copyright laws, costs law and other issues that a company is likely to deal with.

How to choose the best lawyer for the business

The lawyer chosen will become an extended part of the business and someone that is dealt with on a regular basis, be it via email, phone or face-to-face. Above all other factors, it is thus important for the business and the lawyer to get along. There doesn’t need to be agreement on all matters, business related or otherwise, but there should be some shared values, beliefs and interests.

Secondly, it is preferable for the lawyer to be in the same city or town as the business. This facilitates regular meets more easily, which are definitely required on a regular basis. Being able to meet up becomes even more important in the event of a law suit being filed.

Further to these key considerations, the suitability of a lawyer can be determined by asking a handful of pertinent questions. The answers will help decide whether the lawyer has the skills, communication style and approach to their work that suits the business. As mentioned before, one can definitely shop around for a lawyer. Remember that this person has an important job – protecting your business, so it is imperative to appoint the right person.