Getting a Business off the Ground on a Shoestring Budget

During the start-up phase, it’s vital for a business owner to keep a close eye on the books. Running into financial trouble can crash a business long before it’s taken off. To help keep your business out of the red, keep these tips in mind:

Work from home or a shared office space

The benefit of working from home is obvious – you don’t have to rent a premises and pay the overheads that come with it in addition to your home. It’s not everyone that can work from home though, so those who want to avoid distractions at home or who prefer to have people around, can look into shared office spaces. These business hubs are popping up everywhere and provide, at the very least, a desk and chair to rent. You’ll share the space with other entrepreneurs or freelancers, which will also give you the opportunity to network.

Barter with other businesses

Business owners are often told to negotiate discounts, but bartering works just as well, if not better. During a barter you’ll offer your service in exchange for someone else’s service or product. Say, for instance, you’re a web developer who would like signage done on your car. You can then approach a signage company and offer to develop their website in exchange for a vehicle wrap. It’s a deal both businesses will benefit from.

Employ with care

Only employ people once it’s really necessary and when you can afford it. You’ll most likely find that you’ll be able to take care of admin and other menial tasks yourself in the first few months. Assess the business’s needs after four to six months to see whether an employee is needed to fill a gap. Thereafter, take it month by month, but never employ more people than is necessary.

Be a budget-conscious marketer

There are many ways to create awareness of your business without spending half of the monthly budget. You can use networking as an advertising tool and have business cards on you at all times. Invest in email marketing, run a competition or start a referral program with existing customers. Even if you have only one customer, that one customer can lead to one more.

Pay and get paid quickly

Cash flow is what keeps a business afloat, so take care of yours. Part of it is paying creditors on time, so that interest is not accrued on outstanding debts. The other part is getting paid, which is often a headache. Help debtors pay on time by issuing invoices quickly or by setting up electronic payments for them. Don’t try and sell this to them by telling why it’s good for your business – do it by telling them how it will benefit their business.

These cover all the business basics, but should make a huge difference to the bank balance at the end of the month. Continue doing business frugally until you’re out of the woods, but keep the lessons you learn as reminders for times when the cash is not flowing as freely as it should.

This advice was brought to you by Digicash in the interest of the financial health of your business.

Advertising That Keeps on Giving

In the digital age we live in, it is customary for small businesses to market themselves online. Why? Because it is relatively cheap. Tap into social media and the marketing of a business can in fact be done for free.

The potential problem with this approach is that you could be invisible to people who do not know that your company exist. This is because a poor digital strategy will effectively push your company to the bottom of search results and thus keep it out of sight.

Business owners should not forget that the ‘real’ world still presents plenty of marketing opportunities. And it is quite possible for these to be as cost effective as online solutions. The secret is in picking marketing devices that deliver a continued return on investment. That is, a device that is installed, launched or purchased once, but it secures money or interest for your business on an on-going basis.

Here are four such money-making machines:

Referral program

Few strategies are as effective as word-of-mouth. Take advantage of this by offering existing (satisfied) customers a reward of some kind for every new customer they send your way. The reward can be a discount coupon, free product or a saving off their next purchase. You will have more customers than you know what to do with in no time!

Brand your car

Brand your car with a vehicle wrap or magnetic signs and you’ll take your business wherever you go. This is especially effective if you’re on the road for most of the day. You’ll pass hundreds, if not thousands, of potential customers every month. Steer clear of trying to say too much, however – the simpler, the better.

Signage

If your business does not have a sign yet, it’s best that you soon contact signage manufacturers in South Africa to invest in one. A big, bold sign on the outside of your building increases awareness and attracts new customers. People might drive by your premises more than once before they pop in, but be sure that they will notice your shop and that the business name will slowly but surely settle in their subconscious mind.

Sponsorship

Look towards your community to see if there are any sports teams, events or other such initiatives to sponsor. The initial cost involved might be high, but your brand will enjoy attention whenever the team is playing or the event is happening. Do not pick a once-off event – go with something that happens on a weekly or monthly basis.

Your Rebranding Action Plan

Companies rebrand for many reasons – being under new ownership, changing direction, merging with another company or to modernise their image. Whatever the reason, however, the basic principles of doing it successfully remains the same.

To rebrand in a manner that will see to it that existing customers are retained and new ones acquired, a project plan must be established. During this kick-off phase, key people from within the company must also become involved. The process moves from here to the final phases during which the look is updated and launched. These are the stages we’ll look at in more detail.

Build brand identity

A company’s brand identity comprises those elements that customers see during direct dealings with the business or in the media. Top of the list are the business’s name, its logo, colours and payoff line. These have to work together to establish the desired brand image within the minds of the customers. When everything is signed off, commission the redesign of business cards, notepads, stationery, vehicles and any other customer touch points.

Update the website

While the rebranded website can’t be launched before a company’s intentions have been made public, a new website must be developed and designed in the background. The importance is evident when one considers that many customers first make contact with a company online. This applies not only to the website, but social profiles on the web too. Be sure to also take these into consideration. Together, the parts must form a cohesive whole.

Change the face of the company

With extensive changes to a company logo and colours, the updates will have to be pulled through to the physical building. This could be as simple as contacting signage companies and wall cladding suppliers to replace the old logo with the new one, or it could be as extensive as getting interior decorators in to revamp the entire building. The first solution would be the most cost effective, but a proper business analysis must be completed before deciding on which route to take.

Strategise the launch

This phase is listed last, but should definitely not be left until the last minute. If the launch fails, it could jeopardise the future success of the company.

With that said, it’s vital to answer the following questions:

  • What do we want the customer to know, i.e. what is the message the customer should take away from it all?
  • Through which channels will the launch happen? Don’t pick any channel – go to where the customer is.
  • When will the launch happen? Too soon or too late could be equally harmful.

Perhaps the most important question to answer at every step of the rebranding process is “Have covered absolutely everything?” To make sure that nothing gets left out, double check and triple check. The extra effort will be worth it at the end of a successful rebranding project.

4 Really Good Reasons to Go Back to School

It can be daunting going back to school while you’re already in the working world. There are many things to consider: the costs of studying, the time and effort it takes, how to juggle school, work and family, and whether you have a good enough reason to go back to school.

As to that last consideration, here are some legitimate reasons why going back is definitely something to consider:

You need it for that promotion

Do you have your eye on a particular promotion, but need an additional qualification to bag it? Then studying is definitely for you. Perhaps, however, you would study further not for a particular promotion, but just to make you more eligible to be considered for a promotion in the future. Either way, before you enrol, sit down with your boss to discuss whether getting the qualification will indeed help you in getting promoted. It’s good to have an honest discussion about your future options. You might even find that your employee would be willing to help finance your studies.

You’ve reached the glass ceiling

If you’ve reached the glass ceiling at your job and know that you’ll have to look elsewhere to broaden your horizons, then it’s the right time to study further.

However, first ask yourself if you’ve gotten the hang of your job. Is there still a lot more you can learn just by showing up to work every day? Especially if your studies would still be in line with your current job, it’s worth it to learn everything you can on the job first. It’s basically like an education you’re being paid for, so why pay to go back to school and spend that extra time and energy studying? First concentrate on learning the ropes at work before you start looking elsewhere to get schooled.

You want to change careers

Sometimes people go back and study to be able to go further in their current line of careers. But sometimes they study further because they want to change careers. If you are planning on changing career directions, the earlier you do this the better. However, we find nowadays that people are diving into wholly new careers much later on in their lives as well. Are you a high-powered executive who has secretly always had the dream to be a journalist? Or do you daydream of getting your law diploma and being a paralegal like Rachel Zane from Suits? Remember, it’s never too late to go for your dreams.

You feel your skillset is lacking

You like your current career path, you’re doing well, but something’s missing. It’s not that you want to qualify for a specific promotion, but you know that upping your skillset could really make your career take off. This is particularly relevant if you’re self-employed – or want to be. Having a general business qualification, for instance, can really give you the confidence and the know-how to take your business further.

There are many legitimately good reasons to go back to studying. Whether you want to go further in your current profession, or you want to be able to hop across professions to land your dream job, studying further is the way to do it.

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Career

You’re unhappy with the way your career is going and you want to fix it. You want to fast-track it, help it along and stand out from the crowd. But how to do it? There are many strategies, in fact, that you can apply right now. It’s not even necessary to get up from your desk.

Adjust your attitude

Complaining, criticizing and being lazy do you no favours. This is not the type of employee or colleague people want around. Come promotion time, you’re likely to be passed over in favour of someone with a positive attitude. Actively work on bettering your attitude by adjusting your thoughts and looking for the good things about your job.

Review your annual review

It’s easy to forget about your annual or quarterly review once it’s done, but dust it off from time to time to check how you’re doing. There might be problem areas that were highlighted that you forgot about or even opportunities that could be seized. It’ll improve your performance at work, making it more likely that your next review will be a stellar one.

Get organised

A desk that resembles a landfill site does not make for a productive day, because you spend a lot of time searching for misplaced files and documents. To get more productive, get an in-out tray and divide your work accordingly. Trash anything that you don’t need and file the rest. Do the same for your computer’s desktop and your documents folder.

Spend 30 minutes reading

The first thing you should do every morning is read – a blog post, a newsletter, an article; any piece of information that’s relevant to your industry that’ll help keep your knowledge current. It’s one of the best ways to ensure that you stay relevant and have information of value at hand during conversations. If you feel that you need more, look at short courses presented by business schools.

Get noticed

Sitting in your corner, not speaking up and not contributing, is not the way to get noticed. Speak up during meetings, propose a solution to a workplace problem and volunteer to help out. If you really want to make an impression on your manager, ask for more responsibility, then take it on and perform!

Need more quick ideas? Send a mail to someone you connected with at a conference, dress for the job you want, polish your online resume or have a chat to someone that you admire for inspiration.